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“Battle” for Hormuz, that is why there will not be another war in the Gulf (as yet)

Published on January 13, 2012 by: in: Politics

Despite the fact that the two parties – Iran and the USA – do not seemingly avoid confrontation, there will not be an open armed conflict at least now. There are some reasons.

Iranian threats

Ataollah Salehi, the Iranian army commander-in-chief warned the USA against the return of their aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf area. “Islamic Republic of Iran will not repeat its warning” – he said – according to the IRNA national information agency. These words together with the first Iran vice-president Rez Rahimi’s threat concerning a blockade of the strategic Strait of Hormuz, provided that there is embargo on sale of oil imposed on Iran in combination with great maneuvers of the Iranian navy in the Gulf, caused that the possibility of the American and Iranian war is seriously considered in media all around the world. Professor Jolanta Sierakowska-Dyndo has already announced its beginning on the TOK FM radio, because she thinks that “Sanctions is a type of using force but economic one. It is the same war like classic or military”.

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The American unique position in the world depends among others on the fact that Americans care about maintaining a free international trade, and their navy does not allow to disrupt the sea communication routes. That is the reason, why they cannot allow themselves to present weakness and the victory of Iran in the rhetorical as yet “battle” for Hormuz.

No open armed conflict yet

Despite the fact that the two parties do not seemingly avoid confrontation, there will not be an open armed conflict at least now. There are some reasons. Firstly, the blockade of the Strait of Hormuz by Iran is very doubtful. As Jonathan Rue from the Institute for the Study of War says, Iran does not have such military potential. Even during the Iraq-Iran war, the two parties of the conflict hindered admittedly the movement of oil tankers across the strait even though they did not blockade it completely. Any type of action e.g. mining the Hormuz would be quickly revealed and countered by the USA that have significant forces in the area (among others in Bahrain), which would come to a bad end for Iran because of differences in military potential between the two countries. Besides, extremely strong sea current in the strait does not favour mining. More important fact is that Iran would lose most on such a blockade. It would be impossible for Iran to provide clients with its own oil. What is more, Iran would also make it impossible for itself to import petrol (it lacks own refineries, which could process enough amount of oil), which would have tragic consequences for the fuel internal market – the government withdrew large subsidies to petrol, replacing them with 40 USD subsidies for the poorest. Irregular increase of energy prices makes of course increase in all other economy sectors. The Iran riyal exchange rate in relation to dollar has already dropped to its lowest level in the history in recent days.

Ambigious signals sent by Iran

The above analysis indicates that the Iranian threats remain only threats as for now, directed probably to the internal purposes as part of power struggle before parliamentary election in March. The ruling camp, when the internal threat in the form of “Green Movement” lacks – reformists herald a boycott of an election – it is now divided, which was already noticed when basij attacked the British Embassy and incoherent announcements sent by different regime representatives. Fundamentalists, who earlier were the president Ahmadinejad’s direct powerbase, act against the group gathered around him. The growing economic problems in relation to already applicable sanctions and the perspective of the new, more severe ones, are also responsible for tightening rate towards the West, which enables signing the Act by Obama on the last day of 2011 on economic sanctions towards the countries buying the Iranian oil. The signals sent by Iran are also ambiguous, Tehran probably wants to play for time and delay implementing sanctions and heralds readiness to talk about its nuclear program.
Ivan Eland from the Independent Institute in the “Commentary” questions the political effectiveness of economic sanctions, which cause activation of the citizens around the regime in his opinion. The collapse of the USSR or the RSA’s apartheid happened above all due to internal, not external, factors. Sanctions imposed on Cuba have not brought any effect for years and lots of American politicians call for lifting them. Moreover, even declining oil export from Iran does not have to mean the drop of influence, provided that the prices will rise by virtue of the reduced demand and threats connected with the exacerbated situation in the area.

What if diplomacy fails?

However, there is a possibility that a consistent attitude of the USA and the European Union (provided that it will join the Americans, which French Minister of Foreign Affairs Alan Juppe called for) will force at least partial adaptation of the countries, which would not otherwise support any additional sanctions. According to the “New York Times”, one will have known by January if the EU supported the American sanctions. In February, according to Mark Dubowitz – the director of the think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the Department of State will announce which countries still buy oil from Iran and decide whether to impose sanctions against them. One will have known if sanctions effectively reduced the income of Iran from the sale of oil by June, if not, then it means the end of sanction. When diplomatic means fail, then one can only get used to the inevitable, that is to Iran having the atom bomb or relying on changes in the regime or overthrowing it, which seems to be unreal today. It is like Israel’s getting used to the fact that its deadly enemy has nuclear weapons at its disposal. Then, the bombs will talk instead of diplomats.

Translation: Sylwia Syposz

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About Leszek Jażdżewski

Politologist, publicist, regular political commentator in Polish media. Editor in chief of “Liberté!”, Polish liberal socio-political journal. Studied international relations in University of Lodz, Institute of Political Studies on Polish Academy of Sciences, Glamorgan University in UK and Tbilisi University in Georgia. Vice-president of Liberal Forum, member of the council of Projekt: Polska Foundation, secretary of the board of Transport Integration Society, vice-president of Industrial Foundation. Coauthor of books: “Liberal reflections on life chances and social mobility in Europe” and “Democracy in Europe. Of the People, by the People, for the People?”

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