Strait of Hormuz: Sea Gate Gets More Dangerous

The world’s lifeblood flows through a narrow passage from the Persian Gulf. Will America’s military prevent Iran from blocking the Strait of Hormuz?

Since nearly 20 percent of the world’s traded oil comes from the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz, this narrow Middle East seaway has gained outsized importance in today’s world.

It seems whenever Iran feels threatened or disrespected, its leaders threaten to cut off this vital supply of oil by mining the Strait of Hormuz.

Symbolic Iranian vote

Reuters reported July 20, “Just over half of Iran’s parliament has backed a draft law to block the Strait of Hormuz, a lawmaker said on Friday, threatening to close the Gulf to oil tankers in retaliation against European sanctions on Iranian crude.”

The vote is largely symbolic, since the assembly has little control over military and foreign policy issues. In those areas “Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the last word, but the law would lend political support to any decision to close the strait. …”

Iranian lawmaker Javad Karimi Qodoosi described the strait as “‘the world’s lock’ to which Iran holds the key.

“‘If the sanctions continue, the countries that have imposed sanctions have no right to cross the Strait of Hormuz without harm,’ the Iranian Students’ News Agency quoted Qodoosi as saying” (“More Than Half Iran Parliament Backs Hormuz Closure Bill”).

As the latest round of sanctions aimed at Iran take hold this summer, the U.S. military is taking this threat seriously. There seems to be little chance that Iran’s leaders will back down from their nuclear program that has brought the sanctions down on them. So, in an effort to safeguard the oil, the U.S. is beefing up its already extensive military footprint in the region.

Military buildup

The Wall Street Journal reported, “The Pentagon is building a missile-defense radar station at a secret site in Qatar and organizing its biggest-ever minesweeping exercises in the Persian Gulf, as the U.S. steps up preparations for a possible flare-up with Iran” (“Pentagon Bulks Up Defenses in the Gulf,” July 17, 2012).

The missile defenses are designed to detect missile launches even from deep inside Iran. This is in an effort to counter Iranian ballistic missiles (which soon could be nuclear) that can currently reach Israel and parts of Europe. “Intelligence agencies believe Iran could have a ballistic missile as early as 2015 that could threaten the U.S.,” the article continued.

The U.S. Navy has doubled the number of minesweepers in the area and is sending another aircraft carrier to the Middle East months early “to ensure two carriers are present in the region at all times. …

The Strait of Hormuz highlighted on a map of Iran (from the CIA World Factbook).

The Strait of Hormuz highlighted on a map of Iran.

“In the coming minesweeping exercises, the U.S. and its allies will practice detecting and destroying mines with ships, helicopters and robotic underwater drones in the Persian Gulf and other locations in the region, though not in the strait itself. U.S. officials said 20 nations would take part in the exercises, scheduled for Sept. 16 to 27” (ibid.).

Asymmetric warfare leads to firing on a fishing boat

The United States has overwhelming military power by most measures. It has by far the largest military budget in the world and overall advantages in high-tech weaponry and its nuclear arsenal, as well as sheer numbers of aircraft carriers, jet fighters, minesweepers, submarines, missiles—you name it.

But in recent years even small groups of enemies have found chinks in that armor. Some have called this asymmetric warfare. Others, more sympathetic to America’s enemies, have compared it to David and Goliath, with America in the role of the disdainful military giant.

America’s mighty naval vessels are vulnerable to attack by small bands of brazen suicide bombers. Since the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, the Navy has been on high alert for such attacks.

This apparently led to a tragic incident earlier this week when a small boat rapidly approached the USNS Rappahannock, a refueling ship. According to a statement from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India, the small motor vessel “disregarded nonlethal warnings and rapidly approached the U.S. ship.” The Americans then fired on the small boat, killing a fisherman from India and seriously injuring three others.

The U.S. Embassy conveyed its condolences to the families of the dead and injured, but no amount of apologizing can erase the incident and its negative effect on public opinion of the United States.

After several highly publicized errors and misconduct by a few American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, world public opinion can’t go much lower. All these incidents have tarnished and diminished the pride in American power, if not the power itself.

America’s diminishing power

Asymmetric attacks are sure to continue to be a key strategy of America’s enemies. And the cost of trying to defend against them and to avoid mistakes is becoming higher all the time. As the United States faces its fiscal cliff early next year, large cuts in military spending are likely. And Americans in general are likely to be less willing to use even that reduced military power.

Though America is currently the world’s most powerful nation, the pride of that power is being seriously diminished.

The Bible talks about the pride of the power of God’s people being removed as the result of sins (Leviticus 26:14, 17, 19).

Could this apply to America today? Could our spiraling immorality and export of violence and pornography, our culture of greed, our removal of God from public life have anything to do with our current state?

Americans too often flaunt their freedoms and too rarely live up to their responsibilities to live in a way that would please our Creator. His 10 Commandments are not only removed from courthouses, they are forgotten by the public as well. Even churches teach a feel-good religion without recognition that God has made His laws for our good—and breaking them brings automatic penalties.

What will happen in the Strait of Hormuz?

What will happen in the Strait of Hormuz in the coming months? With the military buildup, are the chances of conflict being touched off, even inadvertently, increasing?

Could America lose naval vessels to asymmetric warfare, terrorist attacks or mines? Will America have the stomach to stick it out? Or will the U.S. eventually give in and leave Iran to its own devices?

If so, how would Israel—the nation Iran continually threatens to wipe off the map—respond? Will Israel allow the Iranians to complete nuclear weapons to be used against them?

Whatever happens in the short-term, today’s tense situation seems sure to become even more tense.

However, the Bible also shows a time on beyond when the true power player will take charge. Jesus Christ has promised to return to this earth to prevent humanity from its reckless race to self-destruction (Matthew 24:21-22).

Read more about the time of peace that will come in our section on the “Kingdom of God.”

About the Author

Mike Bennett

Mike Bennett

Mike Bennett is editorial content manager for the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, in the Dallas, Texas, area. He coordinates the Life, Hope & Truth website, Discern magazine, the Daily Bible Verse Blog and the Life, Hope & Truth Weekly Newsletter (including World Watch Weekly). He is also part of the Personal Correspondence team of ministers who have the privilege of answering questions sent to Life, Hope & Truth.

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