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Strait of Hormuz - Iranian Capabilities

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned the United States on 22 July 2018 that it could shut down international oil shipments in the strategic Strait of Hormuz if Washington continued to provoke Tehran. "We have always guaranteed the security of this strait," Rouhani told diplomats in the Iranian capital. "Do not play with the lion's tail; you will regret it forever." The Iranian president, considered a moderate, has previously threatened to close the strait in response to US President Donald Trump's threat to stop Iranian oil exports through the waterway.

Iran's rearmament program in the 1990s invited an array of interpretations of its military capability to close or interdict the Strait of Hormuz (SOH). The fighting in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), drove Iran's military forces down to minimal levels of equipment while increasing institutional disorganization. Air and ground assets ended the war in the poorest condition. Iran chose to rearm these forces first. However, in 1992, the focus widened to include the rebuilding of the Navy and those military assets physically near the Strait of Hormuz. This enlarged emphasis expanded Iranian military capacity to again challenge shipping transiting the SOH. With its new naval acquisitions, Iran is an increased threat to the interests of its neighbors and the West, particularly the United States.

In 1992 Iran began a military buildup on several small gulf islands close to the Strait of Hormuz. They added several thousand additional troops to those islands, artillery, and anti-ship missiles. Iran occupies two islands in the Persian Gulf claimed by the UAE: Lesser Tunb (called Tunb as Sughra in Arabic by UAE and Jazireh-ye Tonb-e Kuchek in Persian by Iran) and Greater Tunb (called Tunb al Kubra in Arabic by UAE and Jazireh-ye Tonb-e Bozorg in Persian by Iran); Iran jointly administers with the UAE an island in the Persian Gulf claimed by the UAE (called Abu Musa in Arabic by UAE and Jazireh-ye Abu Musa in Persian by Iran).

UAE and other Arab Gulf states are seeking to reverse Iran's occupation of three small islands near the Strait of Hormuz: Abu Musa, Greater Tunb Island, and Lesser Tunb Island, all strategically located in the Strait of Hormuz. The three islands were effectively occupied by Iranian troops in 1992. In 1995, the Iranian Foreign Ministry claimed that the islands were "an inseparable part of Iran." Iran rejected a 1996 proposal by the Gulf Cooperation Council for the dispute to be resolved by the International Court of Justice, an option supported by the UAE. On December 31, 2001, the GCC issued a statement reiterating its support for the UAE's sovereignty over Abu Musa and the Tunbs, declared Iran's claims on the islands as "null and void," and backed "all measures...by the UAE to regain sovereignty on its three islands peacefully."

The Iranians have repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz if the rest of the world does not do what Iran wishes it to do in a variety of ways. There was such a threat in May 1997, with the Iranians saying that if the Americans were to try to take any kind of retaliatory action against Iranian terrorism, they would close this Strait of Hormuz. During a 18 December 1997 press conference, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Maleki stated that Iran supports "the free flow of oil" through the Strait of Hormuz, but reserved the option of closing off the shipping route if it is threatened. Iran has admitted to deploying anti- aircraft and anti- ship missiles on Abu Musa, an island strategically located near the Strait of Hormuz's shipping lanes.

In one possible scenario for an area-denial strategy, Iran might be able to prevent the US Navy from operating in the Persian Gulf by mining the Strait of Hormuz and then guarding it with antiship cruise missiles and small submarines to thwart mine-clearing operations.

The US intelligence community judges that Iran can briefly close the Strait of Hormuz, relying on a layered strategy using predominately naval, air, and some ground forces. During 2004 Iran purchased North Korean torpedo and missile-armed fast attack craft and midget submarines, making marginal improvements to this capability. Tehran's ability to interdict the Strait of Hormuz with air, surface and sub-surface naval units, as well as mines and missiles remains a concern. Additionally, Iran's asymmetrical capabilities are becoming more robust. These capabilities include high-speed attack patrol ships, anti-ship missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, and hardened facilities for surface-to-surface missiles and command and control.

On 09 January 2012 Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi said the country is the "key factor" in providing security of the Strait of Hormuz. Asked about possibility of blocking the Strait of Hormuz by Iran as discussed by some news agencies, he said, "We have not said that we will block the Strait of Hormuz, but the issue is that if anybody wants to put the security of the area in danger, there will be a danger for all."

The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps is planning to conduct “its greatest naval war games” near the Straight of Hormuz in the near future. The newly announced Iraninan drills, codenamed The Great Prophet, may coincide with major naval exercises that Israel and the United States are planning to hold in the Persian Gulf in the next few weeks. The exercises, called Austere Challenge 12, which both Israeli and U.S. officials have described as the largest-ever joint drills by the two countries, are designed to improve missile defense systems and co-operation between the U.S. and Israeli forces.

On 03 January 2012 the Commander-in-Chief of Iranian Army Major General Ataollah Salehi said the U.S. flotilla aircraft carrier should not return to the Strait of Hormuz anymore. Salehi speaking in the last parade staged in the naval exercise in the Strait of Hormuz, southern Iran, referred to withdrawal of the U.S. flotilla aircraft carrier from the Strait of Hormuz when Iran launched the drill codenamed “Velayat-e 90”.

The United States approved sanctions targeting Iran's oil industry, and the European Union will consider banning Iranian oil imports during a meeting of EU foreign ministers on 30 January 2012. The sanctions were designed to persuade Iran to drop what Western powers believe is a secret nuclear weapons program developed by Tehran.

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Page last modified: 27-07-2018 23:51:32 ZULU