Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Iranian threats

U.S. Energy Information Administration Map
In for a penny, in for a pound, I suppose, as another irrational Iranian spokesman threatens (but only once)the U.S. Navy, as set out here:
Iran's army chief on Tuesday warned an American aircraft carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf in Tehran's latest tough rhetoric over the strategic waterway, part of a feud with the United States over new sanctions that has sparked a jump in oil prices.
And, well, this time they mean it so much they won't repeat their warning:
“We usually don’t repeat our warning, and we warn only once,” Ataollah Salehi was cited as saying by the state-run Fars news agency. “We recommend and emphasize to the American carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf.”

Could Iran close the Strait of Hormuz? Maybe, but, in my view, (1) not for very long and (2) at a huge cost to - Iran. Energy markets would spike, but only until it becomes clear that there are alternative routes for oil to flow (see the map above). See here:
On average, 14 crude oil tankers per day passed through the Strait in 2011, with a corresponding amount of empty tankers entering to pick up new cargos. More than 85 percent of these crude oil exports went to Asian markets, with Japan, India, South Korea, and China representing the largest destinations.
At its narrowest point, the Strait is 21 miles wide, but the width of the shipping lane in either direction is only two miles, separated by a two-mile buffer zone. The Strait is deep and wide enough to handle the world's largest crude oil tankers, with about two-thirds of oil shipments carried by tankers in excess of 150,000 deadweight tons.
Closure of the Strait of Hormuz would require the use of longer alternate routes at increased transportation costs. Alternate routes include the 745 mile long Petroline, also known as the East-West Pipeline, across Saudi Arabia from Abqaiq to the Red Sea. The East-West Pipeline has a nameplate capacity of about 5 million bbl/d. The Abqaiq-Yanbu natural gas liquids pipeline, which runs parallel to the Petroline to the Red Sea, has a 290,000-bbl/d capacity. Additional oil could also be pumped north via the Iraq-Turkey pipeline to the port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean Sea, but volumes have been limited by the closure of the Strategic pipeline linking north and south Iraq.
The United Arab Emirates is also completing the 1.5 million bbl/d Abu Dhabi Crude Oil Pipeline pipeline that will cross the emirate of Abu Dhabi and end at the port of Fujairah just south of the Strait. Other alternate routes could include the deactivated 1.65-million bbl/d Iraqi Pipeline across Saudi Arabia (IPSA), and the deactivated 0.5 million-bbl/d Tapline to Lebanon.
China might be the most affected country if the Strait of Hormuz is closed.

An interesting piece from Arab News by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim, "Strait of Hormuz and Iranian threats":
Every five years, the Iranians would threaten the whole world that they would close the Strait of Hormuz. They never did. They simply can’t do it and they are not capable of doing it even if they wanted to do it.
That the Iranians feel the need to rattle swords right now may be due to the shambles of their already weak economy and the internal political fallout from the drive to develop nuclear weapons. In the meantime, they gain some benefit from increasing oil prices caused by their threats.


  1. Anonymous7:37 PM

    Any guesses to how long it would take for the strait to be re-opened if Iran closes it?

  2. I guess that depends on what methods the Iranians might use to attempt the closure. Some are more quickly thwarted than others.

  3. Christopher Carradine7:48 AM

    1st. This is an excellent site. Thank You

    We should be more than intrigued with this latest flourish of  supposed Iranian irrationality.  It is clearly calculated to either test, produce or provoke Western resolve.

    But irrational? Only relatively so.  Are we not all too aware of the massive complex at Natanz? This irrational state has aggressively developed a nearly weaponized  nuclear capacity, with hundreds of thousands of square meters of hardened factory built over a decade in full view of both  secure and unclassified space assets. One can even watch the progress on Google Earth history beginning in 2003.   Recent IAEA inspections only observe the above ground complex, which is set-dressed as medical research. There may have been a brief disruption with a worm in the Siemens gear running the centrifuges, but they recovered quickly. 

    And so much for irrational when one considers the sophistication of the surrounding missile defense assets at Natanz and a dozen other hardened nuclear sites. This regime and those preceeding are deadly serious about nuclear weaponry, what may be inexplicable, if not irrational was the relative passivity of the threatened West as we watched it being built. 

    The Vinson, Enterprise, Stennis, and eight more four acres of USN American sovereignty,  nevermind the CGs and DDs and SSBNs, will of course continue  to traverse Hormuz despite Iran's public threats. It is correct to observe that  the straits can be successfully defended and that the difficulty will be directly proportional to Iranian actions, but I do not doubt that any blockade will be swiftly defeated. The effort will vary from tactical to strategic depending on how many carrier groups have to deploy, among the other more secure assets. 

    We now face the end game of a long term containment proving only marginally effective. Once Iran is capable of nuclear warfare, recklessness, and not irrationality will become the threat. Their oil wealth has fueled this capability, and so long as they continue to benefit economically, the nuclear programs will thrive. Challenging Hormuz transits, even if only as propaganda, will inevitably  enhance Iranian oil revenues despite Western disruption of banking flows. (it already has).

    IMHO, what we are witnessing is a deliberate manipulation of trade-sensitive oil pricing, and this directly benefits the completion of a massively expensive nuclear adventure. I also think the Iranians well know they do not have the conventional military capacity to challenge a far more capable western military. Obliquely then is that this is about oil pricing, increased revenue for a vast nuclear program, and this, if true, is brilliantly disguised as rogue state irrationality. It may be anything but.