Iran’s Threat to Close Strait of Hormuz: Bluff to Influence U.S. Presidential Election?

From Jewish World Review


Last week, as many Americans took to the skies and roads to visit with family and friends for the New Year’s holiday, the Islamic Republic of Iran unleashed a torrent of threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, a shipping channel vital to transporting one third of the world’s crude oil.

On Tuesday, Iranian Vice President Mohamed Reza Rahimi warned that “not a drop of oil will pass through the Strait of Hormuz” if the West imposed new sanctions against the country’s oil sector. Wednesday brought a boast from Iran’s navy chief, who said that the Islamic Republic could close the Strait, adding that doing so would be very easy for his country’s forces. Thursday, a commander of the Revolutionary Guard continued to raise the specter of disrupting the Strait, declaring, “The U.S. is not in a position” to tell Iran what to do and adding, “Iran does not ask permission to implement its own defensive strategies.”

As I wrote last week, most oil analysts agree that, in the words of one, “shutting down the Strait is the last bullet Iran has” short of attaining nuclear weapons and that “therefore we have to express some doubt that they would do this” at this juncture. With oil prices actually declining slightly mid-week despite the Iranian threats, the smart money said the Iranians would not make good on them. And sure enough, they haven’t: on Saturday, Tehran seemed to back off, with a Revolutionary Guard commander suddenly suggesting such discussion is passe and “belongs to five years ago.”

What the heck is going on here? Some argue the Islamic Republic is simply acting irrationally in the face of international pressure. And many assume Iran’s latest challenge was simply intended to dissuade Obama from signing ratcheted-up sanctions against Iran’s oil sector or to bully the EU out of its planned boycott of Iranian oil. Perhaps. But if so, it predictably fell flat (over the weekend Obama at last signed a defense bill that penalizes foreign financial firms that do business with Iran’s central bank).

Unless, that is, Iran’s threat to close the Strait reflects a more patient strategy. The Islamic Republic’s overriding goal is to attain nuclear capability. Is it possible that the Iranians could be calculating that backing down from an empty threat to close the Strait will enhance Obama in the eyes of the U.S. electorate?

If President Obama calls Iran’s bluff he gets to look strong for the moment and his chances of re-election are enhanced.

“The extremists [in the region] view Obama as weak,” according to Iraqi politician Mithal al-Alusi, a Sunni Muslim who was elected to Iraq’s Parliament in 2005 on a platform that advocated free markets, free speech, rule of law, and normalized relations between Iraq and Israel. Alusi, who has long warned of the Iranian nuclear threat and Iranian influence in Iraq’s government, says that Iranian leaders follow the U.S. election process closely – and they have their preferences.

To understand what they want in a U.S. leader, Alusi says one must “remember how they reacted to Carter, and then to Reagan.”

During Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the Iranians held 52 American hostages for 444 days, abused and paraded them blindfolded in a spectacle designed to humiliate the U.S. They freed them the day of Reagan’s inauguration.

In threatening to close the Strait, then, the Islamic Republic’s leaders could be engaged in a sleight of hand. If their goal is to attain nuclear capability so as to dominate the region, continue to export terrorism, destroy Israel, and establish a global caliphate, Iran’s leaders do not want an American president who will stop them.

Perhaps fearing the election of a Republican U.S. president, the Iranians are trying to create a pretext of imminent threat to oil transport via the Strait from which to back off in response to strong statements from the U.S., such as Wednesday’s remarks by representatives of the U.S. Navy and the Pentagon that any blockage of the Strait “will not be tolerated.”

If Iran makes idle threats and backs off, it will strengthen Obama’s image at home in advance of the next election. The Iranians want Americans to elect as President someone they believe will not stop them from attaining nuclear capability.

On the brink of going nuclear, Iran’s leaders view the next four years as pivotal.

So should we.

This entry was written by and posted on January 2, 2012 at 3:43 pm and filed under Commentary.