18 July 2019   Leave a comment

The US and Iran continue to exchange low-level attacks in the Strait of Hormuz. Iran seized a small oil tanker that was smuggling fuel out of Iran, a profitable criminal enterprise since Iran heavily subsidizes fuel prices. The seizure, however, emphasized how vulnerable passage through the Strait can be. And the US claims to have shot down an unmanned drone which had come too close to a US warship in the Strait. It remains unclear what the US strategy in the Strait may be, whether it is content to simply provide safe passage for oil tankers or whether it wishes to test Iranian naval capabilities. The US announced that it is sending an additional 500 troops to a base in Saudi Arabia. Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson have written an analysis for the New York Review of Books entitled “Iran: The Case Against War”. It is a wide-ranging review of the options available to the US and it concludes that a war would be disastrous:

“The administration appears to be dusting off the tanker war concept and pressuring European allies to join the US Navy in protecting oil tankers from attack, though maritime operations would fall short of close individual escorts.  If the administration were to take a harder look at the tanker war, it might observe that Iran, while still vastly weaker than the United States, is in a better position to resist now than it was thirty years ago, when it had been drained by the long war of attrition with Iraq. Although economically anemic today, it is not bankrupt. And thanks to the Trump administration’s abrupt withdrawal from the JCPOA and its humiliations of European allies, Tehran is less isolated diplomatically. Furthermore, it possesses old-style asymmetric means of response, such as terrorism, and new ones, including cyber capabilities and missiles.4 A tit-for-tat exchange of attacks and counterattacks could widen and intensify the conflict. Iran, for example, could retaliate against US partners in the Gulf. For the US, the escalation could ultimately reach so-called Iranian ‘leadership targets.’”

The essay is worth a very close read. It is thoughtful and well-evidenced. As tensions may continue to rise in the Strait of Hormuz, we would all be well-advised to know as much as possible about various conflict scenarios.

Posted July 18, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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