The American baseball player Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra is well known for his witty sayings like “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t go to yours”, “You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six” and “Nobody goes there (a St. Louis restaurant) anymore. It’s too crowded”. But in my view, one of his sayings towers above all the others, and describes wonderfully recent events in the Middle East: “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future”. And if there is one place in the Middle East about which it is most difficult to make any predictions, it is the Strait of Hormuz.
The large naval exercise of the Iranian navy which was meant to demonstrate to the world its ability to block the Strait of Hormuz to maritime traffic, and President Obama’s decision, despairingly belated as it is, to finally bring severe economic sanctions against Iran, bring the area closer to a military confrontation that looks, at least on face value, inevitable. Iran has already announced that it will see these sanctions as a cause for war and that its response may well be the blocking of the Strait. The U.S. Fifth Fleet has already made it public that it will not tolerate any interruption to the maritime movement of goods and cargo in the Strait. The situation brings back memories of the dynamics into which the Middle East was sucked when Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser ordered the closure of the Strait of Tiran in May 1967.
No sanctions that will not include an offensive military action will stop Iran’s nuclear project. On the other hand, this project is rapidly becoming a world wide problem, not just the problem of Israel. The range of Shihab 4 missiles will cover Western Europe and this of Shihab 5 and 6 will cover the North American continent. These missiles, armed with nuclear warheads and ready for launch within one to two years from now, will make the whole world a far less safe place.
If the Iranians will block the Strait of Hormuz, the U.S. and its allies who have aerial and naval forces stationed in the region will have no choice but to act swiftly and decisively against a wide range of Iranian targets, not only against Iranian warships and local coast to sea missile launchers. The Allies will want to destroy not just the Iranians ability to inflict severe damage on their warships, but also the Iranian capability to launch ballistic missiles at their bases and ground forces across the region. The clear aerial advantage that the U.S. Air Force and its aircraft carriers have over the Iranian Air Force, which is equipped with outdated aircraft and lacks the anti aircraft defense that the cancelled Russian S-300 anti aircraft missiles would have given it, will enable the U.S. to carry out a wide ranging aerial attack on Iranian military assets at a relatively low cost and will in all likelihood roll on to a direct attack on the nuclear facilities, an attack that the Americans would be able to carry out much more effectively than Israel could.
The Iranians know all this. It is highly likely that the last thing they want is the outbreak of hostilities of the kind described above before they are protected by a nuclear umbrella which is probably not ready yet. Brinkmanship and ill considered war-like declarations which are eventually translated, not always out of choice, to acts no one seriously intended to take, have already caught more than one Middle Eastern dictator by surprise. Let us hope that this will also happen to the Iranian dictatorship.
A Clarification – It was brought to my attention that the Israeli newspaper “Haaretz” has today published an article on the subject with a similar title. I would like to make it clear that I am not a reader of the “Haaretz” newspaper, I have not seen the said article and any resemblance between this article and the article I have published here today is totally coincidental.