The high stakes standoff between Iran and the U.S. over the Strait of Hormuz, the passageway for one-fifth of the world's oil, was inflamed Thursday when Iran's navy claimed to have recorded video of a U.S. aircraft carrier entering the Port of Oman. The Associated Press says the announcement "is an indication Iran is seeking to cast its navy as having a powerful role in the region's waters" and it comes on the same day the deputy chief of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Hossein Salami rejected U.S. claims that it could prevent Iran from closing the strait. "If they (the West) impose sanctions on Iran's oil exports, then even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Strait of Hormuz," Salami said on state TV, according to Haaretz. On Wednesday, the U.S. Fifth Fleet said it would not tolerate any disruption of the strait. If push comes to shove, what would a military confrontation in the strait look like?
First, there are a number of reasons why blocking the strait would not be in Iran's interest. As The Daily Beast's Michael Addler notes, "Closing the Strait of Hormuz would be a catastrophe for Iran itself, as all its export oil ships through the strait." At the same time, the price of oil would skyrocket, angering the international community and further isolate Iran. However, as Time's Mark Thompson points out, while closing the strait would jeopardize Iran's oil exports that transit the strait, "if the next round of sanctions keeps Iranian oil off the world market, that brake on Iranian military action will be gone." In that light, a confrontation becomes more plausible. As Vali Naser, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes "War between the U.S. and Iran may very well start, not if and when Washington decides to strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, but because sanctions designed as the alternative to military action end up hastening its advent." So what would happen?
Giving a glimpse of a potential scenario, Iran began a 10-day naval exercise in the Persian Gulf this month to "show off how it could use small speedboats and a barrage of missiles to combat America's naval armada," reports CNN. The lead image above shows a photo of a naval war game in the Hormuz Strait from last year. So what are Iran's military capabilities? In a report last year for the Naval War College, U.S. Navy Commander Daniel Dolan wrote that Iran had acquired “thousands of sea mines, wake homing torpedoes, hundreds of advanced cruise missiles and possibly more than one thousand small Fast Attack Craft and Fast Inshore Attack Craft …The majority of these A2/AD [anti-access, area-denial] forces are concentrated astride the vital Strait of Hormuz…” Dolan's report made the case for defending the strait from the Arabian Sea. “It will allow the [allied commander] to concentrate fires on attriting the enemy forces while denying the enemy an equal opportunity to return fires.”
“The Iranians’ ability to impose high costs on their enemies by exploiting Iran’s imposing geography bear careful consideration today by potential opponents ... They have a long littoral there — it’s 1,300 nautical miles,” Fox said. “They’ve got a lot of places where they have an ability to set up, they have coves for small boats and cruise missiles that can potentially move around.” All this would complicate any conflict.
Below, the AP shows footage broadcast on Iranian state TV of a surveillance plane shadowing a U.S. aircraft carrier: