- The Washington Times - Friday, December 30, 2011



It isn’t saber-rattling by Iran that’s making noise in the Middle East, but rhetoric-rattling. Nobody does it better. The latest purveyor of big malarkey is the chief of the Iranian navy, who would execute the Iranian threat to close the Strait of Hormuz in answer to the Western sanctions against Iran for its work on a nuclear weapon.

“Closing the Strait of Hormuz for Iran’s armed forces is really easy,” he says, “or as Iranians say, it will be easier than drinking a glass of water.” (Those witty Persians.) Then, in deference to the real world, he added a caveat: “But right now, we don’t need to shut it.”

The Iranian admiral, or whatever they call a navy chief who never, never gets sick at sea, obviously doesn’t have Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s gift for rhetoric both flaming and empty. Not being a politician, he understands the risks in challenging the U.S. 5th Fleet, with its 20 ships and abundance of combat aircraft.

He certainly doesn’t frighten anyone, not even himself or his shipmates. The British Foreign Office dismissed the talk as the “rhetoric” it is. “Iranian politicians regularly use this type of rhetoric to distract attention from the real issue, which is the nature of their nuclear program.” The U.S. State Department, which rarely uses the straightforward English that our cousins do across the sea, dismissed the Iranian threat as merely “an element of bluster.”

Rhetoric has become the chief export of the Islamic countries, oil being only second. It’s in the DNA. Once upon a time a drowsy follower of the prophet lay against an olive tree close by the village gate, trying to take a nap. But he was surrounded by a gaggle of village children who were raising the usual din of children at innocent play.

“Children, children,” he cried. “A man is giving away melons at the other end of the village. Go and take as many as you like.”

The ploy worked and the children quickly ran away, their feet raising little clouds of dust. The drowsy follower of the prophet settled back to continue to get his nap at last. But suddenly he bolted to his feet, wide awake, and ran to join the children. “What am I doing here?” he mumbled to himself. “Someone is giving away melons at the other end of the village.”

Arab bluster has little power any longer to frighten anyone but the credulous, and the price of oil, which is usually sensitive to any prospective disruptions of the market, ticked upward only a little in the wake of the Iranian threat, and then subsided the next day.

Nevertheless, the Iranians could disrupt the Hormuz choke point; about 40 percent of all the Gulf oil goes through the strait, which divides Iran from the United Arab Emirates and Oman. The strait narrows to a width of only 21 miles where the Persian Gulf flows through on its way to the Arabian Sea and thence to the Indian Ocean. The U.S. Department of Energy calls the strait “the world’s most important oil choke point.” If Iran could actually close the choke point, it would disrupt oil not only from the United Arab Emirates and Oman, but also from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar. This is why it’s not going to happen.

But the rulers of Iran, goofy as they usually sound, are actually as clever as the villager in hot pursuit of the mythical melons. They understand that the window of opportunity to disrupt the Iranian nuclear-weapons program is swiftly closing, and dispensing a little more apocalyptic rhetoric could guarantee that the West - meaning the Obama administration - will do nothing about it.

The International Atomic Energy Agency reported only last month that there is evidence that the Iranians, despite their assertions that they are working only on peaceful applications of nuclear energy, are actually at work on a bomb and the computer modeling of how to use it. The Washington Post reported in November that nuclear scientists from the old Soviet Union and Pakistan have joined North Koreans in designing and building the high-precision detonators needed to set off the chain reaction of a nuclear explosion.

The buzz in the West that something dramatic is afoot in Iran has been heard in Tehran, too. It’s a rattle of more than rhetoric. A loaded gun in the hands of a 5-year-old, after all, can wreak enormous damage.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.



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