The Strait of Hormuz is undoubtedly one of the most important strategic chokepoints in the world, alongside the Panama Canal, Suez Canal and Straits of Malacca. Understandably, then, the media is having a collective freak-out over the Iranian threats to close the Strait in response to sanctions.
This issue is near and dear to my heart – the US Navy spends a lot of time and training for exactly that scenario. I’ve deployed three times to that part of the world and navigated the Strait countless times each deployment. And certainly if Iran wanted to close it, it would cause serious problems for the entire world – I’d be curious to see what kind of coalition would coalesce to counter such a move by Iran. There’s been a lot of talk in the media about whether or not Iran could actually succeed in cutting off the Strait, and I don’t want to get to deep into it for fear of accidentally crossing classification boundaries, but they could almost certainly make the Strait too dangerous for civilian merchants to risk crossing, at least for a few weeks.
That said, I just don’t see them doing it. Iran is a little bit like a terrorist with only one hostage. You need to point your gun at the hostage now and then to show you’re serious, and the presence of the hostage prevents the police from moving in to take you out. As it stands, the West is prevented from interfering militarily with Iran’s internal affairs or nuclear program because Iran COULD close the Strait.
And by THREATENING to close the Strait, they cause headlines, strut in front of the cameras at home and mess with the world’s oil markets a little bit, all for the cost of a press release.
You can’t actually shoot the hostage though, because then your leverage is gone. If they ACTUALLY close the strait, they’ll have given pretty much the entire world a reason and justification for war with Iran – even in a limited response to a Strait closure, it’s hard to see how much of Iran’s military/nuclear infrastructure would remain intact – and with that comes the risk of internal collapse.