We’ve covered how the U.S., Israel and Iran are preparing for the possibility that U.S.-Israel cyber warfare spills over to acts of war in the physical world.Now that the most severe of the European sanctions have come into effect, tensions are mounting around Strait of Hormuz – a vital transit point for a fifth of the world’s oil supply.
The consequent specter of war has never been more real.
Here’s latest rundown:
• On July 1 EU sanctions designed to further cripple and even break Iran’s economy – its national currency lost close to half its value against the U.S. dollar in the past year – went into effect. The sanctions ban imports of Iranian oil by EU states, a market that bought 18 per cent of Iran’s exports last year, and bar EU companies from transporting Iranian crude or insuring shipments.
• Also on Sunday Iran began a new round of war games, firing missiles at models of foreign air bases amid deployment of subs and speed boats. In the three-day exercise, Iran has successfully fired several dozen missiles – including a medium-range Shahab-3 ballistic weapon with a range capable of striking Israel – that supplement shorter-range missiles already equipped near the strait.
• About 120 lawmakers in Iran’s 290-seat parliament have signed a draft bill calling for the Strait of Hormuz to be closed to oil tankers headed to Europe in retaliation for an EU embargo on Iranian crude. Although the proposal has no chance of becoming law unless allowed by Iran’s supreme leader, the closing of the strait is a “red line” that would trigger a U.S. military reaction.
• The U.S. has continued to build up its military presence around the strait. In late April a group of the beleaguered F-22 Raptor — the world’s most expensive jet — joined F-15 Eagles in the Middle East for an unprecedented level of “F-22/F-15 air dominance team” training.
The naval force includes the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, the USS Ponce (which will serve as a floating staging base and perhaps a base for Special Operations forces), four more Navy minesweeper ships and airborne mine countermeasure helicopters (including MH-53 Sea Dragons).
“The message to Iran is, ‘Don’t even think about it,’ ” one senior defence Department official told the New York Times. “Don’t even think about closing the strait. We’ll clear the mines. Don’t even think about sending your fast boats out to harass our vessels or commercial shipping. We’ll put them on the bottom of the gulf.”
• The U.S. has been seeking to expand military ties with the six nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman — through joint mine countermeasure exercises and purchases of American-made air defence systems and weaponry. The UAE and Bahrain announced on Sunday that they would be performing “several days” of joint air force exercises this week.
• Both UAE and Saudi Arabia have provided potential alternatives for shipping oil through the region: the UAE is nearing completion of a pipeline through its mountains that will allow it to reroute the bulk of its oil exports around the strait and Saudi Arabia reopened an old oil pipeline built by Iraq to bypass Gulf shipping lanes.
No one really knows how a fight in the Strait of Hormuz would play out as Iran has been preparing for a potential military clash in the waterway and the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet that’s already stationed nearby is no slouch.
The U.S. hopes that the EU’s oil ban will force Tehran to give ground on curbing its nuclear work at the next round of nuclear talks so that Israel won’t feel compelled to launch a military strike on Iran. But seeing as the talks today in Istanbul don’t involve any political decision-makers, the prospects for imminent compromise are slim.
On Monday Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, speaking to the ISNA news agency, said that failed talks would mean that “the other alternative is confrontation.”
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.