The Troubled Waters Of The Strait Of Hormuz

We go to the Strait of Hormuz, now ground zero in the standoff with Iran and chokepoint for one-fifth of the world’s oil supply.

Iranian navy speed boats attend a drill in the sea of Oman, on Friday, Dec. 30, 2011. Iran's navy chief has reiterated for a second time in less than a week that his country can easily close the strategic Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, the passageway through which a sixth of the world's oil flows. (AP)

Iranian navy speed boats attend a drill in the sea of Oman, on Friday, Dec. 30, 2011. Iran's navy chief has reiterated for a second time in less than a week that his country can easily close the strategic Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, the passageway through which a sixth of the world's oil flows. (AP)

The Strait of Hormuz, where a fifth of the world’s oil moves every day, is narrow, crooked, shallow – and shoved right up against the belly of Iran.  Now the US is leading a global campaign to shut down Iranian oil exports, to pressure Iran off its nuclear program.  And Iran is threatening to shut down the Strait of Hormuz.

It’s easy to call it bluster.  But military and energy planners aren’t laughing.  Iranian mines, missiles and motorboats could turn the Strait into a hellish chokepoint and send oil prices soaring.

This hour, On Point:  strategy,  stakes, and the Strait of Hormuz.

-Tom Ashbrook


Timothy Doorey, a Navy Captain who retired in 2009 after serving 28 years in Naval Intelligence. He’s now a lecturer with the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

Amy Myers Jaffe, the Wallace S. Wilson Fellow in Energy Studies and director of the Energy Forum at the Baker Institute, as well as associate director of the Rice Energy Program. She’s the author of Oil, Dollars, Debt, and Crises: The Global Curse of Black Gold.

Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council and author of A Single Roll of the Dice – Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran.

From Tom’s Reading List

Financial Times “The Obama administration dismissed a new warning from Iran about its naval operations in the Gulf on Tuesday, saying that the threat showed the Iranian regime was under pressure at home and that international sanctions were hitting its economy hard.”

al Arabiya News “In recent weeks, a growing number of senior Iranian military and civilian officials have warned that Tehran could use force to close the 54 km entrance to the Gulf if Western states impose sanctions that paralyze their oil exports.”

Foreign Policy “Traders say the main reason for their non-chalance is the extent of U.S. military forces deployed in the area. The idea is that, if Iran mines the waterway — which links the Persian Gulf with the Indian Ocean — or harasses oil tankers with its fast patrol boats (such as the one pictured above), the U.S. Navy will swiftly come to the rescue. ”

Map: Strait of Hormuz

This map shows the Strait of Hormuz, each pin indicates an area of military significance. Click on each blue pin for more information. You can also use the ‘sat’ button to see that satellite imagery and zoom in with the + and – keys on the left side.

View map in a larger map


For a more in-depth look at the military issues surrounding the Strait of Hormuz, check out this study from the Naval War College on the vulnerability of U.S. forces in the region to Iranian military threats.

Slideshow: This detailed slide show was provided by the Naval Postgraduate School, based on open-source, unclassified data.

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