“If Iranian oil is banned, then not a single drop of oil will pass though the Strait of Hormuz,” Rahimi was quoted by the state news agency as telling a conference.
“We are not interested in any hostility,” he said. “Our motto is friendship and brotherhood. But Westerners are not willing to abandon their plots.”
The threat got a great of attention in the West. However, this threat has been made numerous times before. Often the threat is phrased as: “If Iran cannot use the Strait of Hormuz to export its oil, no one will be able to move oil through the strait.
But no one is proposing a ban on Iranian oil. The United States is trying to induce major allies to cease buying Iranian crude so that only China and a few other countries would be left to buy Iranian crude. The expectation is that China would then demand a discounted price and Iranian oil revenues would plummet.
American military planners say Iran could close the strait, but only briefly. They the United States could restore traffic with several days to a few weeks. But it would take a war to do that. It isn’t clear that Iran would want to risk a war by closing the strait. The United States, on the other hand, would have little choice but to go to war; it could not allow a closure to go unchallenged.
Rahimi’s remarks may have been aimed at the EU, whose foreign ministers are due to meet next week to decide if the EU will end all purchases of Iranian crude. On the other hand, Rahimi’s comment might just have been routine, given that the threat is decades old. Rahimi, as first vice president, is in charge of day-to-day government operations and has little to do with foreign or military policy.
The Iranian Navy, meanwhile, was into a 10-day exercise described in the media as practice for how to close the strait. Last week, oil markets stuttered when a Majlis deputy’s remarks about the exercise were mistranslated to have him saying the exercise would actually close the strait.
But when the Navy’s commander, Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, described the exercise for reporters, it turned out it isn’t even in the strait. The Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz fall under the maritime arm of the Pasdaran. The Navy’s jurisdiction begins outside the strait and the exercise will stretch from the Arabian Sea to the Gulf of Aden outside the strait, Sayyari said.
There is another key matter about closing the strait. Both the inbound and outbound sea lanes used for passage through the strait fall entirely within the territorial waters of Oman. Blocking those sea lanes would be an act of war against Oman.
The preferred sea lanes to the West of the strait do fall within Iranian waters. But, if they were closed, tankers could use shallower waters beyond Iran’s control.