US Continues to Provoke Iran in Persian Gulf

February 15th, 2012 - by admin & the Congressional Research Service – 2012-02-15 00:04:42

US Continues to Provoke Iran in Persian Gulf

US Continues to Provoke Iran in Persian Gulf
John Glaser /

(February 14, 2012) — The massive fleet of US Navy warships continue to engage provocatively in the Persian Gulf, just south of Iran, while the US media present Iranian patrols as deliberate threats.

The Persian Gulf has been the focal point of grandstanding militarism in recent months, as US-led sanctions aimed at crippling Iran’s oil and banking sectors have pushed the Iranians to threaten to close the Straits of Hormuz, through which 20 percent of the world’s oil export passes.

However, a recent report from the Congressional Research Service [See story below.] concluded such a move is a “a low probability event” given Iran’s profoundly inferior military and naval capacity and the fact that Iran relies heavily on the Strait for it’s own exports and economic well-being.

The threat was mainly a response to US aggression and militarism, which is rarely addressed in the domestic news media. But onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Gulf’s Strait of Hormuz, BBC reporter Jonathan Beale explained, “This carrier and these [fighter] jets are more than just a show of force, they’re here to send a clear message to Iran as to who really controls these waters.”

Similarly, Rear Admiral Roy Shoemaker admitted to the BBC, “The presence of this ship is provocative.”

Meanwhile, US reports purport to show Iranian provocations. “Iranian patrol boats and aircraft,” reports the Washington Times, “shadowed a US aircraft carrier strike group as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz on Tuesday.” But US officers explained this was routine, even as helicopters flying above the aircraft carrier warded off any approaching Iranian boats, which are miniature compared to the US warships.

A Washington Post story on the incident explained that some of these so-called clashes in the Gulf actually involved boats containing smugglers, and not Iranian navy patrol boats.

These tensions in the Persian Gulf and the harsh US-led sanctions on Iran are due to Iranian noncompliance with US demands to halt all uranium enrichment, despite it being Iran’s right to do so under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Obama administration, the US military, and the US intelligence community are all in agreement that Iran’s nuclear program is so far civilian in nature.

Iran’s Threat to the Strait of Hormuz
Congressional Research Service

Some officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran have recently renewed threats to close or exercise control over the Strait of Hormuz. Iran’s threats appear to have been prompted by the likely imposition of new multilateral sanctions targeting Iran’s economic lifeline — the export of oil and other energy products. In the past, Iranian leaders have made similar threats and comments when the country’s oil exports have been threatened.

However, as in the past, the prospect of a major disruption of maritime traffic in the Strait risks damaging Iranian interests. US and allied military capabilities in the region remain formidable. This makes a prolonged outright closure of the Strait appear unlikely.

Nevertheless, such threats can and do raise tensions in global energy markets and leave the United States and other global oil consumers to consider the risks of another potential conflict in the Middle East. This report explains Iranian threats to the Strait of Hormuz, and analyzes the implications of some scenarios for potential US or international conflict with Iran. These scenarios include:

* Outright Closure. An outright closure of the Strait of Hormuz, a major artery of the global oil market, would be an unprecedented disruption of global oil supply and contribute to higher global oil prices. However, at present, this appears to be a low probability event.

Were this to occur, it is not likely to be prolonged. It would likely trigger a military response from the United States and others, which could reach beyond simply reestablishing Strait transit. Iran would also alienate countries that currently oppose broader oil sanctions. Iran could become more likely to actually pursue this if few or no countries were willing to import its oil.

* Harassment and/or Infrastructure Damage. Iran could harass tanker traffic through the Strait through a range of measures without necessarily shutting down all traffic. This took place during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. Also, critical energy production and export infrastructure could be damaged as a result of military action by Iran, the United States, or other actors.

Harassment or infrastructure damage could contribute to lower exports of oil from the Persian Gulf, greater uncertainty around oil supply, higher shipping costs, and consequently higher oil prices. However, harassment also runs the risk of triggering a military response and alienating Iran’s remaining oil customers.

* Continued Threats. Iranian officials could continue to make threatening statements without taking action. This could still raise energy market tensions and contribute to higher oil prices, though only to the degree that oil market participants take such threats seriously.

If an oil disruption does occur, the United States has the option of temporarily offsetting its effects through the release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Such action could be coordinated with other countries that hold strategic reserves, as was done with other members of the International Energy Agency after the disruption of Libyan crude supplies in 2011.

Iran’s threats suggest to many experts that international and multilateral sanctions — and the prospect of additional sanctions — have begun to affect its political and strategic calculations. The threats have been coupled with a publicly announced agreement by Iran to resume talks with six countries on measures that would assure the international community that Iran’s nuclear program is used for purely peaceful purposes.

Some experts believe that the pressure on Iran’s economy, and its agreement to renewed talks, provide the best opportunity in at least two years to reach agreement with Iran on curbing its nuclear program.

For the complete report go to:

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