It’s not the first time Iran has threatened to block the shipping routes via the Strait of Hormuz to restrict the movement of oil tankers out of the Arabian Gulf in case the Trump administration’s second round of sanctions go through beginning November 4. It had issued similar threats in response to the US sanctions in the past and even back in the 1980s war with Iraq when, in its view, the Gulf states were backing Saddam Hussein. It also masterminded attacks on two Saudi oil tankers at Bab Al Mandeb using the Houthi rebels in Yemen as its proxies.
But the Iranian establishment needs to recall that the hawk-eyed vigilance and pursuit of any misadventure by it in the 1980s was promptly aborted by the US and UK naval fleets, helicopters and minesweepers based in Bahrain and elsewhere in the Gulf. And it cannot hope and expect to have an upper hand this time round either; the fleets of both countries are still present in Bahrain.
But even if Iran cannot block or choke the Strait of Hormuz no one can stop a troublemaker from trying his luck. That’s where the Gulf region tour of US Deputy Secretary of State John J Sullivan last week assumes significance. At a media roundtable session in Bahrain he made it abundantly clear that the US was committed to protecting the shipping routes and choke points threatened by Iran.
“We are committed, along with our allies and partners including most importantly Bahrain, in ensuring that free transit continues and that states that are not committed to that free and open trading system are not able to disrupt that,” he told the Press. After all, on an average some 17 million bpd flows out through the strait every day.
While one would like to believe the Iranian threats belong in the realm of bluff and buster [considering any blockade would hurt the interests of its allies Qatar and Iraq as well], and that the combined might and military and technological reach of the US and the UK is more than sufficient to keep any such designs in check, the countermeasures in the face of misadventures and war are never foolproof.
Thus, while the Iran blockade scenarios in the immediate future could well be taken care of by the two superpowers, it is time the littoral Arab states likely to bear the brunt of the threats – Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates [UAE] – came up with alternative strategies that offer a permanent and long-term solution to Iran’s perennial threats and mood swings.
One of the solutions could be that the oil-producing emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the UAE as well as Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia’s eastern region set up their own oil ports along the coastline of the UAE emirate of Fujairah which overlooks the Indian Ocean and lay their pipelines to them across the desert, thus circumventing the need to ship any oil from a Gulf port at all.