By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
The roughly kidney-shaped Persian Gulf, surrounded by Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudia Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) and Oman, has long been a leading oil-producing region. Iran alone is the fourth largest producer in the entire world; oil makes up 80 percent of Iran’s exports.
The Gulf region produces about three fourths of the oil Japan imports and half the oil Mainland China uses.
At the southern end of the Gulf is the only outlet, a narrow channel about 20 miles across that resembles a kink in a giant garden hose. On one coast is Iran; on the other, the U.A.E. and Oman. There is enough room for two narrow shipping lanes, incoming and outgoing, used by several thousand commercial/local vessels and about 28 oil tankers on any given day. In 2011, 35 percent of all seaborne-traded oil passed through this one narrow channel.
This is the Strait of Hormuz.
Joe Boyles, military historian and former serviceman, addressed the Rotary Club on the importance of the Strait of Hormuz, not only to American national security, but also to the Asian markets and other countries that depend heavily on oil from the Persian Gulf region.
Hormuz has a troubled history going back at least 35 years, when Iran first threatened to mine that small body of water; recently Iran threatened to do the same. The entire Middle East region has a long, complicated history of unrest that still concerns the US military and national security.
The Iranian military, according to a January 2012 report by Gen. Barry M. McCaffrey, USA (Ret.), is fully capable of carrying out its threat to mine the waters of Hormuz with its small fleet of subs, backed up by shore-based missile batteries and missile-armed aircraft.
Iran’s latest threats have been labeled by some as meaningless saber-rattling, but McCaffrey believes they should be taken seriously. Although Iran would be economically foolish to cut off 80 percent of its foreign trade revenue, the US military looks at an enemy’s capabilities, not its intentions. Iran is politically unstable and it has the capability to close off the Strait, achieve nuclear power in three to five years and sink US aircraft carriers with 5000-plus personnel aboard. Due to Iran’s latest threats, there are now three such carriers in the Gulf.
“In my judgment, we are in a high-risk situation in the Gulf,” McCaffrey’s report states. “With a significant probability of Iranian escalation in the coming 90 days.”
In that event, already steep oil prices would go even higher. Heavily insured oil tankers damaged or destroyed would hit the insurance markets hard.
As alternatives to Hormuz, digging a canal through rocky and sometimes mountainous terrain would be economically out of the question, but options for a pipeline bypass are being rapidly developed as the safest and cheapest solution for moving large quantities of oil to world markets.
Even so, Hormuz is only one of several national security challenges to America, according to McCaffrey’s report. For more information on the Persian Gulf, the Middle East, themilitary/political situations and the potential world-wide impact of conflicts or other events in the region, visit Gen. McCaffrey’s website at www.mccaffreyassociates.com.