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Hormuz Strait challenges the West again

Hormuz Strait challenges the West again

The U.S. and Israel seem to underestimate Iran, believing that an invasion will overthrow the ayatollah regime, to be replaced by “Democrats”.

Amid rising civil clashes in Syria, the confrontation between Iran and the West continues, yet with different shades. Constant meetings and consultations will not resolve Iran’s nuclear problem, indeed, but will possibly put off Israel’s military plans which increasingly gain force nowadays.

PanARMENIAN.Net - Recent statements by U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney just add fuel to the fire; the Republicans learnt no lessons from the past; with the Syrian conflict unsettled, they embark on another campaign against Iran. The ruinous consequences of this policy are apparent in Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance, where the U.S. got seriously stuck. Still, the U.S. and Israel seem to underestimate Iran, believing that an invasion will overthrow the ayatollah regime, to be replaced by “Democrats”. However, this opinion can be shared only by those unaware of the Near East politics and Iran’s role in the region.By betting on Turkey, the U.S. is playing with fire: Ankara is a quite unreliable ally, especially when an Islamic country is concerned. Meanwhile, Iran, with its military force, can just make Turkey keep away. Then a real nightmare will burst out in the region, affecting other parts of the world as well. Despite enmity between the Sunnis and Shiites, they have something in common as well: hatred towards the unbelievers and Jews, which can make them forget religious discrepancies and unite. Now the Strait of Hormuz carrying 40% of the global oil supply is on the agenda. After long debates, Iran's Milli Mejlis approved the bill to shut down the strait in case of an immediate threat to Iran. At the same time, Iranian authorities won't impede foreign vessels going through the strait, Iran's high-ranking commander Massoud Jazaeri told Al-Alam TV. He said foreign ships are free to sail unless they harm Tehran’s interests.

According to Iranian media, some politicians and officials of Iran think Tehran should block the strait as retaliation for the sanctions. Experts believe such moves may spark hostilities between the U.S. and Iran.

For his part, Iran's military chief, General Hasan Firouzabadi said they have a plan to block the Hormuz Strait at the Persian Gulf; the plan will be put into practice only if a direct threat to Iran's interests emerges.

Iran is ready to close the strait, and a legal case related to the Strait of Hormuz is worth mentioning here. During the war with Iraq in 1985, Iranian military vessels inspected and suspended ships with cargoes for Iraq. The Strait of Hormuz has a status of an international one, and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea defines that all vessels, including the military ones, have the right to sail through it. Iran has signed, but not ratified this convention, which means it formally has the right to violate it. U.S. didn't sign the convention either.

Currently the U.S. Navy has two strike groups in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea, each of them comprising nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with 48 fighters, two missile cruisers, five missile destroyers, two attack submarines, and a hundred of 1600 km range winged missiles.

In addition, U.S. anti-missile destroyer capable of hitting ballistic missiles is deployed in the region, along with Ponce, the amphibious transport dock with wide range of functions, from hospital to minesweepers and helicopters.

According to The Washington Post, Iran is amassing an arsenal of sophisticated anti-ship missiles while expanding its fleet of fast-attack boats and submarines. The new systems, are giving Iran’s commanders new confidence that they could quickly damage or destroy U.S. ships if hostilities erupt, the officials say. Although U.S. Navy officials are convinced that they would prevail in a fight, Iran’s advances have fueled concerns about U.S. vulnerabilities during the opening hours of a conflict in the gulf. Increasingly accurate short-range missiles — combined with Iran’s use of “swarm” tactics involving hundreds of heavily armed patrol boats — could strain the defensive capabilities of even the most modern U.S. ships, U.S. experts say.

Actually, the likelihood that Iran would risk an all-out attack on U.S. fleet is judged to be small. But Iranian leaders could decide to launch a limited strike if the country’s nuclear facilities are bombed.

This allows the fight to begin in the most advantageous place for Iran in the Strait of Hormuz, and could lead to a devastating first salvo on U.S. Navy warships.

But Iran has sought to neutralize the U.S. technological advantage by honing an ability to strike from multiple directions at once. The emerging strategy relies not only on mobile missile launchers but also on mini-submarines, helicopters and heavily armed small boats known as fast-attack craft.

According to a Middle Eastern intelligence official, who helps coordinate strategy for the gulf with U.S. counterparts, some Navy ships could find themselves in a “360-degree threat environment,” simultaneously in the cross hairs of adversaries on land, in the air, at sea and even underwater.

“This is the scenario that is giving people nightmares,” the official said.

If Syrian rebels overthrow Bashar al-Asad by September, as they promise, the West will face the huge Iranian problems, which would be far more difficult to tackle. Besides, the disturbance in Tajikistan, the closest country to Iran in Central Asia should not be overlooked either. Unfortunately, the Arch of Instability extending from Near to Far East and spoken about back in 1990s is straining more and more, facing the risk of unexpected rupture.

Karine Ter-Sahakian
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