Free Markets, Free People

Straits of Hormuz

Is Iran preparing to close the Straits of Hormuz?

That’s what our intel guys are saying:

U.S. government officials, citing new intelligence, said Iran has developed plans to disrupt international oil trade, including through attacks on oil platforms and tankers.

Officials said the information suggests that Iran could take action against facilities both inside and outside the Persian Gulf, even absent an overt military conflict.

The findings come as American officials closely watch Iran for its reaction to punishing international sanctions and to a drumbeat of Israeli threats to bomb Tehran’s nuclear sites, while talks aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons have slowed.

Now, of course, “developing plans” and actually executing them are entirely different things.  But, as irrational as Iran can be sometimes, the development of such plans has to be taken seriously.

If you’ve been paying attention over the past few months, we’ve been creeping any number of assets closer to Iran.  So obviously we believe where there is smoke we may see fire.

"Iran is very unpredictable," said a senior defense official. "We have been very clear what we as well as the international community find unacceptable."

The latest findings underscore why many military officials continue to focus on Iran as potentially the most serious U.S. national-security concern in the region, even as the crisis in Syria has deepened and other conflicts, as in Libya, have raged.

Defense officials cautioned there is no evidence that Tehran has moved assets in position to disrupt tankers or attack other sites, but stressed that Iran’s intent appears clear.

Iran has a number of proxies, as we all know, none of whom have much use for the US or the rest of the Western world.   What would possibly cause Iran to attempt to strike at outside targets?  The belief that they could get away with it:

But U.S. officials said some Iranians believe they could escape a direct counterattack by striking at other oil facilities, including those outside the Persian Gulf, perhaps by using its elite forces or external proxies.

I’m not sure how one thinks they can escape retribution by such tactics, but it is enough to believe you can.  And apparently there are some in Iran who do.  That’s dangerous, depending on where they sit in the decision making hierarchy.

The officials wouldn’t describe the intelligence or its sources, but analysts said statements in the Iranian press and by lawmakers in Tehran suggest the possibility of more-aggressive action in the Persian Gulf as a response to the new sanctions. Iranian oil sales have dropped and prices have remained low, pinching the government.

So, we wait.  And creep more assets into the area.  And wait.

As an aside to all the arm-chair defense experts who claim we shouldn’t be developing advanced weaponry because all our future wars are likely to be “just like Afghanistan”.

Really?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Iran, the Straits of Hormuz and “Armageddon”

Iran is supposedly being sternly warned that attempting to close the Straits of Hormuz will not be tolerated.  The Iranians have put forward a bill in their Parliament which would require warships from any nation desiring to transit the Straits to get the permission of Iran first.

Of course, the Straits are considered by the rest of the world as “international waters” while the premise of the Iranians is they’re national waters subject to the control of Iran.

Most experts believe that this has been precipitated by sanctions imposed on Iran by much of the world, but especially the Western powers.  Closing the Straits of Hormuz would be viewed by most of them as an act of war.

So, per the New York Times, a secret channel has been opened with Iran’s top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in which he has been informed the US would consider any such attempt to close the Straits as “a red line” that would provoke a response.

DoD has made the position publically official:

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this past weekend that the United States would “take action and reopen the strait,” which could be accomplished only by military means, including minesweepers, warship escorts and potentially airstrikes. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told troops in Texas on Thursday that the United States would not tolerate Iran’s closing of the strait.

So the line is drawn.  The hand is closed into a fist with a warning.  Bluff or promise?  Will Iran test it to see?

Here’s why some think they won’t:

Blocking the route for the vast majority of Iran’s petroleum exports — and for its food and consumer imports — would amount to economic suicide.

“They would basically be taking a vow of poverty with themselves,” said Dennis B. Ross, who until last month was one of President Obama’s most influential advisers on Iran. “I don’t think they’re in such a mood of self sacrifice.”

Of course fanatics often don’t think or reason in rational terms, but Ross has a point.

Meanwhile, as the sanctions continue to bite, Iran’s president is finishing up a South American swing to shore up support (and resources one supposes) for his regime from the usual suspects – Chavez, Ortega and their band of merry socialists.  China is also a player in all of this, although not a particularly enthusiastic one.  Iran exports 450,000 barrels a day of oil, which is now not being bought by Europe or the US.  So it sees an opportunity here to up its share of that total.  John Foley thinks China will fudge on sanctions, at least partially.  That, of course, could extend the drama.

And while all of this is going on, Iranian nuclear scientists are blowing up pointing to some sort of effort by some nation(s) or group to slow and frustrate what everyone believes is Iran’s push for nuclear weapons.  That, by the way, may be part of the discussions in South America if you get my drift.

Don’t know if you noticed recently, but the Doomsday Clock has added a minute, the first since 2007 when it subtracted one.  We’re no 4 figurative minutes from “Armageddon”.  Iran certainly figures in the move.

So far, the “reset” is going just swimmingly, isn’t it?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Iran–something to watch

While the hype and nonsense that usually accompanies primaries continues here, something to keep an eye on is happening a half a world away:

Iran will take action if a U.S. aircraft carrier which left the area because of Iranian naval exercises returns to the Gulf, the state news agency quoted army chief Ataollah Salehi as saying on Tuesday.

"Iran will not repeat its warning … the enemy’s carrier has been moved to the Sea of Oman because of our drill. I recommend and emphasise to the American carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf," Salehi told IRNA.

"I advise, recommend and warn them (the Americans) over the return of this carrier to the Persian Gulf because we are not in the habit of warning more than once," the semi-official Fars news agency quoted Salehi as saying.

Salehi did not name the aircraft carrier or give details of the action Iran might take if it returned.

Iran completed 10 days of naval exercises in the Gulf on Monday, and said during the drills that if foreign powers imposed sanctions on its crude exports it could shut the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world’s traded oil is shipped.

Iran is feeling froggy and is issuing a very thinly veiled threat.  In every way, shape and form, any attempt to attack a returning carrier (or close the Straits of Hormuz, something they deny they intend) will be considered an act of war.

And they’re not really being particularly nebulous or coy about this either. 

In the world of international power politics, this calls for a response by the threatened side. 

This is akin to that 3am call for Obama.

Fold or call their bluff ?

Which will it be?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO