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Thursday, December 29, 2011

US aircraft carrier spotted in Iranian exercise area

You will recall that Iran is in the middle of a massive 10-day naval exercise in the area of the Strait of Hormuz. Now, Iran is claiming that a US aircraft carrier, the John Stennis, has been spotted in the exercise zone.
"A US aircraft carrier was spotted inside the maneuver zone... by a navy reconnaissance aircraft," Commodore Mahmoud Mousavi, the spokesman for the Iranian exercises, told the official IRNA news agency.

The Iranian aircraft took video and photos of the US vessel, he added.

The US aircraft carrier was believed to the USS John C. Stennis, one of the US navy's biggest warships.

US officials announced Wednesday that the ship and its accompanying battle group moved through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow stretch at the entrance to the Gulf that is the world's most important choke point for oil shipments.

After warnings from the Iranian government and navy this week that Iran could close the strait if threatened by further Western sanctions, the US Defense Department warned Wednesday that such actions "will not be tolerated."

The United States maintains a navy presence in the Gulf in large part to ensure oil traffic there is unhindered.
The Strait of Hormuz is a key passageway through which 40% of the imported oil of the world passes.

Let's go to the videotape.

But closing down the Strait of Hormuz may hurt Iran more than anyone else.
US officials and outside experts concede that Iran could block the strait, at least temporarily. Testifying to Congress in March, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Army Lieutenant General Ronald Burgess said that Iran is expanding its Persian Gulf naval bases, allowing it to “attempt to block the Strait of Hormuz temporarily” during a crisis.

Were Iran to make such a move, it might be hurt more than its adversaries.

Iran’s economy is shaky, as is popular support for its clerical rulers, Nader said. The country is facing new Western efforts to halt its suspected nuclear weapons program, including US sanctions that are awaiting US President Barack Obama’s signature and a possible European Union ban on imports of Iranian oil.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, Iran’s net oil export revenues were approximately $73 billion in 2010; crude oil and its derivatives account for nearly 80 percent of Iran’s total exports; and oil exports provide half of the nation’s government revenue.


Moreover, according to the EIA, Iran’s best customer is China, which took about 22 percent of Tehran’s oil exports during the first half of this year and is a member of the United Nations Security Council and one of the few nations on friendly terms with the Islamic Republic.

China gets 11 percent of its crude oil imports from Iran, according to the EIA, while Turkey, a NATO member that shares both a border and antipathy toward Kurdish separatist groups with Iran, got 51 percent of its imported crude oil from the Islamic Republic from January to June of this year.


While closing the Strait of Hormuz, even briefly, would hurt Saudi Arabia, Iraq and other Gulf oil exporters, the Saudis also ship oil via the Red Sea. All of Iran’s exports and many of its imports of gasoline, food and consumer goods are shipped through the strait.
In other words, a long-term closure of the Strait would likely destroy Iran's economy, but could harm others' as well. Could the mullahs be that suicidal? I'd bet on it.

It's a pity that - as far as I can tell - no one ever followed up on this idea.

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