Austin Bay

Iran's tyrannical regime has sent the world what passes for a holiday greeting in contemporary Tehran -- a grim and cynical threat.

This week, a member of Iran's National Security Committee intimated that Iran would soon demonstrate that it could close the Strait of Hormuz to oil tanker traffic. Paryiz Saryari, a member of Iran's sham parliament, added this bit of rhetorical fire: "If the world wants to make the region (i.e., Iran) insecure, we will make the world insecure."

The Strait of Hormuz connects the oil-rich Persian Gulf region to the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean. Closing the Strait to shipping effectively imposes a naval blockade on the Arab states along the Gulf's littoral. That's grim, for it amounts to waging war on several US allies, including Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

It gets grimmer. On any given day, some 30 percent of the globe's seaborne oil supply sails through the geographic choke-point; thus closing the Strait threatens international energy security.

Missiles and mines bolster Saryari's bombast. Iran possesses sufficient military forces to seal the channel. Anti-ship mines, high-speed anti-ship missiles and torpedoes pose the biggest problems. Iran also has a few submarines. Strikes by suicide aircraft and swarm attacks by suicide speedboats are possible.

Yes, this is a grim scenario, and in the looming future grimmer still, once Iran's Khomeinist despots possess nuclear weapons -- which they don't, not yet ... we hope.

Cynics argue that the ayatollahs' cynicism, which is as amply evident as is their corruption, will keep Hormuz open. Immediately following Saryari's threat, world oil prices spiked three to four dollars. Iranian government oil traders, given a heads-up that the verbal threat was coming, could have made millions, with the cash lining a Revolutionary Guard officer's pocket, or an ayatollah's robe, or going into an account to illicitly purchase nuclear weapon detonators.

An uncertain logic undergirds this cynical read. The ayatollahs know that actually closing the strait amounts to a self-blockade. Iran's major oil-exporting seaports lie on the Persian Gulf (e.g., Kharg Island). The regime buys what domestic peace it enjoys with oil money. Choke the strait, and the ayatollahs strangle themselves. So they won't do it, if economic logic overrides theological millenarianism.

Economic logic, however, does not guide the ayatollahs' nuclear quest. If they ditched their nukes, sanctions would end and the threat of U.S. or Israeli attack would drastically diminish. Yet the centrifuges continue to spin; so do threats to annihilate Israel. Last month, Iran threatened to attack missile defense radar sites in Turkey.


Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
 
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