IRAN'S STRATEGIC GAME OF SHOW AND TELL
By Micah Halpern
Thursday April 22, 2010
Iranian National TV announced that their Elite Revolutionary Guard is planning a new set of military maneuvers in the Straits of Hormuz. That's news, that's international news.
When Iran announces military maneuvers they do it for the obvious reason - keeping their military up-to-speed and creating effective war games-style practice. And they do it for international consumption. By announcing that they are engaging in military maneuvers, Iran is announcing to the world that they are mean and mighty and not to be messed with.
The region gets their point and so, too, should the West.
The Straits of Hormuz is not a simple water passage. While small in size, through this strait passes some of the most important cargo in the world today - oil. Nearly one-third of the world's oil and forty percent of the world's shipped oil passes through the narrow Straits of Hormuz each year. The country that controls the Straits of Hormuz is ultimately the country in control of the movement of oil all around that world. Iran contends that they control the Straits and Iran intends to keep it that way.
Israel will be watching Iran's maneuvers very carefully. What kinds of weapons will Iran bring out and what kind of speed boats will be used. Along with the rest of the world, Israel is interested in knowing what types of new surface-to-air missiles Iran actually has. This will be a strategic game of show and tell.
The United States has pledged to keep the Straits of Hormuz open at all costs. But the United States, as Iran well knows, cannot deliver on that pledge. In fact, Iran could not care less what the United States has to say. The Straits is theirs, it is theirs to control, it is in their control - it is Iranian home turf.
In actuality, the Straits of Hormuz are so narrow, that all ships that pass through have no choice but to pass through the territorial waters of Iran on one side and of Oman on the other. The one and only lane that is deep enough to allow large tankers is only about six miles wide. There are two lanes that are two miles wide, one in each direction, separated by a two mile wide median. That's tiny.
As it now stands, tankers pass through Iranian waters under the "UN Convention of Law and of the Sea." The agreement for passage is called a "transit passage."
The United States is flexing muscles in a region where the international shipping lane is actually Iranian waters. Not only does the United States have no diplomatic jurisdiction over the Straits of Hormuz, the United States doesn't even have a clean transit record. The US has been downright klutzy passing through the Straits.
In March of 2009 a United States nuclear sub collided with an amphibious dock injuring fifteen sailors and dumping 25,000 gallons of fuel into the Straits. In January of 2007 a US submerged nuclear sub collided with a Japanese tanker. So far, the United States has been lucky. Iran has steered clear of US ships. Not so with the British. In March of 2007 Iran captured fifteen British sailors by quickly swarmed the UK cruiser with their tiny, but very swift, rubber boats.
If threatened, Iran would have no compunction about shutting down the Straits of Hormuz. The United Nations could invoke their Convention with a capital "C," but we already know how little Iran thinks of international diplomacy and how much they enjoy flying in the face of international convention with a small "c."
Not only do the Iranians have tremendous home court advantage, they also have their rubber speedboats which can outmaneuver larger ships and which can dart in, out and around, striking and retreating, against any target they choose to attack. Iran can destroy vessels and take prisoners. If they chose to sink a single ship - an oil tanker or any other ship passing through - it would wreak havoc on the world economy for weeks.
I know that the United States understands the significance of the Straits of Hormuz. But I do not know that the United States has a plan that is serious enough to counter potential actions by Iran. I do not think that the United States has a plan for re-opening the Straits should it ever come to that. I do not think that the United States has a plan to handle the crisis.
Iran has a plan, of that I am certain. And part of the Iranian plan is based on their certainty that the United States does not have a plan. Iran understands that the United States will attempt to police only the specific area, or lane, within the Straits of Hormuz that is at risk. That means that a serious strike against Iran will be out of the question.
That means that, once again, the Iranians have run circles around the United States.
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