Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, July 7th, 2020

The Strait of Hormuz Decoded


The Strait of Hormuz Decoded

Strategic and equally hostile, the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf is one of the most important routes for crude oil transportation to key markets from Middle East to North America and beyond. This tiny stretch of waterways in the middle of international waters has the single most important impact in fluctuating gas prices around the word.
The geography of the Strait is fascinating in itself. On one side we have Iran, OPEC founding member, and a key oil producing state, on the other side; Arab states, equally stakeholders, and mostly key allies of the United States. The Strait of Hormuz is wide and deep enough to accommodate a daily transportation of a sizable fifth of the world’s crude oil exports that is close to ferrying 19 million barrels of oil (roughly 40% of all world traded oil) with its two available shipping lanes, each 2 miles wide.  At its narrowest point, it separates Oman from Iran by just 20 miles. 
Considering a growing hostile relations between Iran, the United States and neighboring Arab states, the Strait of Hormuz has an even greater strategic importance to Iran, since the Strait is also used as the primary route for Iranian oil exports, covering a noticeable portion of the Republic’s economy. It is worth mentioning that Oil exports formulate 2/3 of the Iranian economy, valuing at USD 70.0 billion dollars annually. 
The crippling U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil exports has led to regular havoc happenings in the Strait, Iran is defiant and desperately needs to market its oil around the world. Whereas, the United States will leave no stone’s unturned to rattle any breach by the Tehran regime, aimed at violating the imposed sanctions. The United States is heavily invested in the area, recently moving maritime Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, deterring any wrong moves by the Iranian Navy and its resident military presence close to the international shores.
The Strait of Hormuz came into equation when an outbound Iranian oil carrier, allegedly transmitting Iranian oil to Syria was abducted by the resident British Royal Marines in close vicinity of the international waters; the incident sparked a spontaneous retaliation by the Iranian government. The Iranian state media released video footage showing Iranian commandos rappelling on a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. Iran has repeatedly warned that unless the U.S. make an effort to de-escalates the prevailing status quo in the Persian Gulf, Tehran will have no choice, but to close the Strait of Hormuz for all crossing traffic.
In retrospect we all remember the very ugly episode between Iran and Iraq during the Persian Gulf War. The painstaking Gulf War took a vicious turn when both Iran and Iraq indulged in a weary sea encounter, attacking each other’s oil vessels to break the stalemate on land in their respective favor. It is very likely that a resembling occurrence takes place yet another time, the U.S. administrations is constantly reprimanding Iran to “stop playing with fire” especially when Iran recently shot down a U.S. drone over the Strait of Hormuz, provoking President Trump to nearly taking a military strike against the regime in Tehran, later calling it off at the very last minute.
The future of JCPOA
As we all know that the former U.S. administration, Tehran and major European states reached a consensual plea deal, commonly known as the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), tasking the Islamic republic, to reduce stockpiling enriched uranium (a key ingredient used to make nuclear weapon). The Iran deal offered the Islamic Republic perpetual relief from embargos from the U.S., the European Union and the U.N. Security Council nuclear related sanctions if biding by its agreed commitments. 
Nevertheless, the process turned sour with President Trump’s arrival at the White House. The incumbent president unleashed harsh criticism on the deal, deeming it a one sided affair, emboldening the Iranian regime and hurting the safety of U.S. allies in the region. The United States officially withdrew from the deal on May 8th 2018. Subsequently the U.S. government reinstalled the previously imposed sanctions, forcing Iran to alter its policies of alleged support for global terror groups, and development of long-range ballistic missiles.
Following U.S. unilateral withdrawal and subsequent Europe enactment of blocking statute to nullify the U.S. sanctions on Iran, Tehran retaliated by increasing its uranium enrichment ratio beyond the level set by the JCPOA agreement. At the moment, there are no signs of any probable concession considering the tense environment surrounding the future of a deal currently at limbo.
Following the cancellation, in an effort to ease tensions, president Trump delivered a secret message to the Iranian supreme leader through Japanese Premier Abe. The U.S. administration is apparently willing to renegotiate the previously agreed terms on JCPOA with Iran. But official statements from Tehran indicate mistrust and reluctance to any supplement ratification on the deal. However, the Iranian foreign minister Dr. Javad Zarif recently expressed his government’s willingness to reverse the enrichment level if sanctions are lifted by the Trump administration.
No doubt the region is getting gravely tense with no apparent signs of de-escalation. While the U.S. deployed aircraft carrier bombers and additional boots on the ground in the Middle East, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard announced its preparedness for any possible military aggression from outside.
Last but not least, the ongoing military maneuvers in the Strait of Hormuz and Middle East is unlikely to mount into a full-fledged military encounter, but let’s not forget the volatility in the situation, and the impacts of crippling sanctions on Iranian exports can rapidly turn the status quo at absolute odds between the arch adversaries.

Naser Koshan is the emerging writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached outlookafghanistan@gmail.com

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