Specialized in Iranian affairs
Translated by Shaimaa Shedeed
Firmly, the US continues in stifling Iran and this was reflected in the Iranian severe tone of speech that included threat of closing strait of Hormuz and resorting to the military solution. Because the naval capabilities of Iran weren’t well prepared to completely close a strait, the threats can’t be deemed as severe but still represents a risk and hazard.
Strait of Hormuz is extremely important in the international trade. About 40% of the oil production passes by this strait. Consequently, the menaces the strait is currently exposed to whether realistic or not can affect the international market as all oil and natural gas exporters in the world including the US depends on the safe passage through the strait of Hormuz.
It must be said that Iran’s naval provocations in the strait of Hormuz especially those carried out by the Revolutionary Guards navy, who takes the lead of mission of the Arab Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, had security repercussions on the Gulf and international interests. This was like a supplement to the Revolutionary Guard land strategy in other conflict arenas in the Middle East as it is the principal tool in the Iranian regional strategy.
In conjunction with the asymmetrical defence strategy adopted by the Revolutionary Guards in the frame of wars on land, it could also apply the hypotheses of the asymmetrical defence in the frame of the naval strategy. In view of Iran’s limited naval strategic power in the Arab Gulf and Gulf of Oman, Iran adopted the strategy of indirect naval exposure by pushing large number of small boats fitted with shoulder- fired missiles, British made naval corvettes, small submarines exported recently from North Korea and anti-ships ballistic missiles. In addition, it developed the coastal defence by developing the emplacement of naval mines, emplacement of naval random detachments, using drones fitted with explosives in order to raid suicidal attacks on the enemys’ ships, naval helicopter, fixed,-wings F27 aircrafts and the cyber attacks for spy and scout. All of these improvements were to achieve decentralised control on the strait of Hormuz, which is otherwise asymmetric to the US existence as Iran previously moved its warships to the Caspian sea and the Indian Ocean as it suits the traditional war that doesn’t match the strategy of Iranian Revolutionary Guards who depend on the asymmetrical defence based on the hit and run hypothesis, which is deemed a pillar in the military movement in the land and sea. Moreover, the Revolutionary Guards Navy could recently build strong ties with several groups of sea pirates under the hypothesis of the holy naval Jihad such as Alshabaab Somali group in Bab Elmandeb in order to cripple the naval transportation and supplies of Saudi Arabia, the US and international energy across the Red Sea.
Safe to say that Iran doesn’t have big chance to close the strait for long time, rather, impeding the movement of the ships crossing through the strait is the maximum action Iran can take for short time. This is because Iran doesn’t have an absolute legal power on the strait, as a big part of the strait of Hormuz intersects with the regional water of Amman Sultanate. In this regard, head of national security and foreign policies committee of Iranian Shura Council Hesmatallah Flahat Basha said that “Iran can’t close the strait of Hormuz” affirming that related Rouhnai statements that were only for media show.
In this context, we find the Iranian navy in the Arab gulf depends on operations similar to piracy, exactly like what happened in 2016 when the Iranian navy detained US mariners entered the Iranian regional water or when it shot a ship was holding Singapore flag in 2015, claiming that it harmed an Iranian navy platform and like what happened during the Iraqi-Iranian war dubbed as Tanks war. Iran always links releasing hostages with financial amounts or political conditions and uses small ships appears and disappears occasionally do inspections. In few words, we aren’t in front of a naval power of generally accepted and recognized war custom.
However, the hit and run tactic followed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in the frame of naval strategy makes it capable of attacking cargo ships or to raid oil premises quickly without warning. Due to sanctions imposed on Iran since the beginning of the current century, the Revolutionary Guards were imposed to develop a mongrel naval doctrine.
Iran also has good ties with number of extremist groups in the region. Consequently, the Iranian actions in the region shouldn’t be considered limited to Houthis as the Revolutionary Guards have strengthened its ties with Alshabaab Somali movement. It has also a naval platform in the Eritrean Asab port to curtail the US movements.
Iran realises well that the military confrontation in the strait of Hormuz will leave many environmental, security and economic repercussions. Thus, it is working on avoiding such confrontation for many reasons topped by the hard economic situation Iran is living today. Actually, there are many internal, regional and international developments related to Iran has changed, nevertheless, Iran still owned by arrogance and looks down to these challenges. Though Iran is the sole country in the Arab Gulf area that has submarine force and has internal programs to manufacture and maintain it, it suffers several challenges and retardation in acquiring advanced military technologies, which suggests many questions around the Iranian capability to affect the maritime traffic in the strait of Hormuz.
However, it is noteworthy that despite the developed military capabilities owned by the US navy in the Gulf water topped by the minesweeper, navy vessels, navy fighters and helicopter, it faces difficulty with the way of dealing with the navy random mine laying adopted by Revolutionary Guards in the Arab Gulf water. Dealing with such strategy is hard to some extent and this was pointed to by the US Bureau for Naval Intelligence and Mikel Colin, head of Iranian program for researches.
In conclusion, Iran understands that the greatest beneficiaries from closing the strait are its enemies. Consequently, it will think twice before taking this step, so closing the strait is the most unlikely option for Iran. On the other side, closing the strait and crippling the passage will affect the world’s economies, which will get Iran in an international isolation may be escalated to a mobility limiting its activities in the region in an unprecedented way.
If the severity of the disruption policy of Iran escalated recently to cope with the speech of the current leadership, disruption of the traffic in the strait is likely to happen more than closure. Even the partial disruption for the strait can foil the Saudi efforts that targets the increase of international oil supplies, in addition, it will also foil the US attempts to provide the countries with alternatives to the Iranian oil. Under the light of these fears, the US naval forces centred in the strait should be alarmed especially from the current Iranian attempts to disrupt the oil flow even if these attempts don’t target the closure of the strait directly.