Iran Briefing Exclusive
Iran Briefing : While tensions between Tehran and Ankara over the NATO missile shield system in Turkey began to fade away on December 15 following Iran’s foreign minister reconciliatory tone towards Turkey, tensions between Tehran and Washington began to rise in the wake of Tehran’s threats to seal off the Strait of Hormoz. Tensions between the two countries took a new turn on December 27 when Iran’s First Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi threatened that Iran would close down the Strait of Hormoz if Western countries impose sanctions on Iran’s oil sector.
Rahimi’s remark followed the report that the EU will impose sanctions on Iran’s oil sector. According to the report, the EU diplomats along with diplomats from the US, Japan, South Korea and some of the Persian Gulf’s Arab States discussed possible ways for ramping up sanctions on Iran in a meeting held in Rome, Italy.
Less than a day after Rahimi’s threat to seal off the Strait of Hormoz, the US Fifth Fleet spokeswoman Lt. Rebecca Rebarich stated that “The free flow of goods and services through the Strait of Hormoz is critical for regional and global prosperity. Anyone threatening to disrupt freedom of navigation in an international strait obviously stands outside the community of nations. Any disruption will not be tolerated.” Immediately afterwards Deputy Commander of the Revolutionary Guard Brigadier General Hossein Salam responded to the US threat: “The US cannot affect Iran’s position. Iran does not ask for permission to implement its own defensive strategies. The history of confrontations between Tehran and Washington attest to this fact, and the Islamic Republic has managed to proceed with its strategies despite US pressure.”
Root of Crisis
No doubt that the Islamic Republic has never been under such increasing pressure both internally and externally. The US and the EU announced at the end of 2011 that they are going to impose sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank and oil sector, and in January 2012 US President Barack Obama endorsed a bill aiming to impose sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank. We must not forget that the Iranian parliament’s decision to expel UK ambassador from Iran (shortly afterwards Iranian regime agents raided the UK Embassy in Tehran) was indeed a response to the UK’s move to impose sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank.
Responding to Salami’s threat, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that Iran has exhibited “irrational behavior” by threatening to close the Strait of Hormoz.
Nuland stated that the Iranian threat to close the strategically important Strait of Hormoz shows that Iran is taking a heavy toll from the Western-imposed sanctions: “One can only guess that the international sanctions are beginning to feel the pinch, and that the ratcheting up of pressure—particularly on their oil sector—is causing them to lash out.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei long ago proclaimed the Threat-with-Threat strategy as the Containment strategy: “We are not a nation to sit back and watch the materialistic, corrupted and rotten powers threaten the strong and dignified Iranian nation. We will threaten as a response to any threat.”
Closing the Strait of Hormoz: Iranian Regime’s Containment Strategy
All strategists concur the Strait of Hormoz is the most strategically important sea passage in the world since one-third of the world’s oil tankers passes through it. Therefore, Iran’s aggressive rhetoric to close the Strait of Hormoz is not only a threat to the US and its allies, but also a threat to all oil importing and exporting countries in the region.
The Iranian deterrence and defensive doctrine is based on threatening the collective interests of oil importing and exporting countries relying heavily on Persian Gulf oil, thus dissuading the US and its European allies from imposing sanctions on Iran’s oil sector which is indeed the Iranian regime’s critical lifeline for survival.
Assessing the Islamic Republic’s Containment Strategy
Containment was a strategy relevant during the Cold War when two countries with massive nuclear capabilities–the US and the Soviet Union–deliberately refrained from using their nuclear means against each other out of fear that if one side triggers an atomic bomb, the other side would respond aggressively.
Considering all of the above, is the Islamic Republic’s decision to close the Strait of Hormoz an effective one? Can the Islamic Republic’s threat to shut down the Strait of Hormoz be regarded as a containment strategy?
Military experts believe that if the Islamic Republic wants to close down the Strait of Hormoz, it can only disrupt the flow of oil tankers in the Strait of Hormoz but not shut it down entirely.
Any attempt by Iran to disrupt the flow of energy in an international sea passage would undoubtedly force the British and French fleets to join the US Fifth Fleet in order to deter Iran. If that happens, the Iranian naval forces would possibly sustain massive losses in the early phase of the war, followed by massive humanitarian casualties on the Iranian side.
Moreover, Iran’s legal dominion over the Persian Gulf and its three islands (Abu Musa, Greater Tunb, and Lesser Tunb which the United Arab Emirate claims as its own) would change as a result of the war and the possible alliance between Arab states. Overall, Iran would be forced to repay for closing the Strait of Hormoz.
The above assumptions would be true if the war is confined to the Strait of Hormoz. However, Iran must be prepared for an all-out war should the Revolutionary Guard wants to expand the war beyond the Strait of Hormoz either through its ballistic capability or its proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah.
Turkey’s decision to host the NATO missile shield on its soil was predictably a move to counter Iran’s ballistic capability. Therefore, if Iran wants to expand the war beyond the Strait of Hormoz, it could target the NATO missile shield system on Turkey’s soil—which would be definitely regarded as an act of war against a neighboring Muslin country. Of course, the high ranking commanders of the Revolutionary Guard have already used threatening language against Turkey over the NATO missile shield.
The Commander of Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Aerospace Force Amir Ali Hajizadeh stated that: “If threatened, we are prepared to first target the NATO missile shields in Turkey and then target places. The US and Israeli plots to attack Iran has led to a change in Iran’s defense strategy, and from now on Tehran will counter threats with threats.”
Apparently the containment strategy adopted by the Islamic Republic as its defensive doctrine will only put Iran in a lose-lose situation. The following options are the possible moves which the Islamic Republic would execute:
Therefore, all of the aforementioned assumptions place Iran in a lose-lose situation.
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