Last weekend, the war of words between the United States and Iran became even more tense. President of Iran Hassan Rouhani threatened the United States by saying that a war with Iran would be the “mother of all wars”. U.S. President Donald Trump responded by saying that he will not put up with such threats.
Fast-forward a few days and Iranian officials are now saying that if Iran cannot use the Strait of Hormuz then no other country will be allowed to use it for oil transit. The Strait of Hormuz is the most important chokepoint in oil transit. Every day, more than 18 million barrels pass through. This represents more than a third of all oil that gets transported by sea.
On Wednesday morning, it has been reported that two Saudi tankers were targeted by Iran-backed Houthi militia near the besieged port of Hodeida. Saudi Arabia has now halted all oil shipments that pass through the area which contains a small strait on the Yemeni coast.
The following day, Kuwait indicated that it would consider halting shipments of oil that pass through the same area.
The U.S. military are aware of the attack and a spokesman for U.S. Central Command said that vigilance will be maintained and that it would cooperate with allies in the region to ensure that there is a free flow of commerce.
The Trump administration has been putting maximum pressure on Iran and in response the regime is employing a maximum threat campaign.
The Iranian regime is unable to guarantee the closure of the Strait of Hormuz. It demands more resources than the Iranian regime can dedicate to it, especially in its weakened position. Furthermore, a closure of the Strait would elicit a response from the international community, including the United States, and Iran does not have the weapons or vessels to match those of who it would be up against.
The Iranian regime is therefore targeting smaller, but still essential straits, in the hope that the international community will pressure the United States into relieving some pulling back on its policy.
Furthermore, attacking in the smaller straits means that Iran has plausible deniability. There are certain strategic oil transport areas that do not border with Iran, however they are areas that are managed by Iran’s proxies.
With Saudi Arabia’s halting of all oil shipments on that particular strait, it is drawing major attention to the role Iran is playing in the region. There was no significant damage and the actual attack was thwarted, but Saudi Arabia is not letting go of the incident lightly.
Iran’s belligerence is continuing, even as it tries to persuade the European Union to take measures that would counteract the sanctions the U.S. is reapplying.
Empty threats are becoming a trademark of the regime and it has been able to call the former U.S. administration’s bluff on a number of occasion. However, the Trump administration has shown that it will not be intimidated and will accept being threatened.