News Analysis |
Iran foreign ministry spokesperson Baharam Qassemi has said that Iran will retaliate with reactionary measures if the country’s oil exports are embargoed following US’s plan to cause economic suffering to Iran. “If America wants to take a serious step in this direction it will definitely be met with a reaction and equal countermeasures from Iran,” Qassemi was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA.
It is a key and only route for the access of trade ships to the open ocean and if Iran manages to choke the passage it will hurt global oil supply in general and for the Gulf States in particular.
United States President Donald Trump backed out unilaterally from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or Iran’ nuclear deal in May 2018. The deal, which was signed in 2015, was the result of tiresome negotiations between Iran and Western powers after which Iran conceded most of its raw Uranium, an important element requisite for making an atom bomb. In return, Iran was offered more than $110bn a year in sanctions relief and a return to the global economy in exchange for halting its drive for nuclear weapons. Global nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), after a series of inspections, has endorsed that Iran is abiding by the terms of the agreement.
Donald Trump has always held the belief that JCPOA is the “worst deal in American history” as it only postpones Iran’s plan for building a nuclear bomb for few years. Also, because the deal does not talk about the research and development of ballistic missiles, Iran remains an existential threat for US ally Israel. Despite what the US and Israeli president think of hidden implications of the said deal, it has been extensively appreciated and backed by the US and Israeli security analysts who have served at key positions in the past. But Donald Trump decided to proceed with his campaign promise and walked away from the deal leaving the status of an ambiguous status of the agreement which was signed by consensus of Iran, USA, UK, France, Russia, Germany, and China. The remaining signatories of the deal decided that they will proceed to the terms anyway. But recently the USA announced that all those countries who will keep buying Iranian oil from November 4th onwards will face economic restrictions as well.
Oil export is the lifeline for Iran’s economy in literal meanings and if the lifeline is under threat, the desperate reaction can very much be anticipated. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday tried to give the world a glimpse of the same scenario which might lead to a disaster. He said that if Iran’s oil exports are blocked, it will halt the oil exports for the Gulf countries too. He did not go into the specifics of how it will exactly be executed but it is not so difficult to comprehend. Strait of Hormuz is one of the most significant sea-bound trade routes of the world shared by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Around 40 percent of the world’s oil exports pass through it, totaling about 17 million barrels per day. It is a key and only route for the access of trade ships to the open ocean and if Iran manages to choke the passage it will hurt global oil supply in general and for the Gulf States in particular.
But it is not as simple as it looks because the Strait of Hormuz has a heavy presence of the US Navy. The strength of US forces was particularly increased after 2011 when similar concerns were raised by the Gulf States. Iran cannot control the movement through the strait for a longer duration without a confrontation of Iranian and US forces. The United States because of its ultimate power superiority over Iran is most likely to emerge as the victorious after the clash, if it happens.
Given such logistic and strategic constraints, it is only deemed as a threat or a distress call from Iran to remaining signatories of the deal, especially Russia and China, to come to its rescue. But as earlier stated, desperate moves can be anticipated as it is the matter of economic lifeline for Iran.