What if Iran was to attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz, how would they try to do it and what would be the ramifications if they did try. We will explore just one of many different possible scenarios but one that I think is very plausible. Iran is running out of time with their nuclear weapons program. The U.N. seems to have finally run out of patience and the sanctions are having a very adverse affect on their economy. The United Arab Emirates is completing a ground based pipeline that will negate the importance of the Strait of Hormuz and Iran’s threat of closing the Strait will soon be minimized. Will the radical Muslims seek to use their leverage before it disappears and cause an International Crisis? Only time will tell and the clock is running out for the Iranians to act.
Let us assume Iran decides to close the Strait of Hormuz, how would they try to too accomplish it. Iran would have to utilize what assets it has for a quick strike to deploy anti-ship mines. Just the threat of the Strait being mined would cause at least a temporary shutdown of the sea lanes. What country would be willing to risk the loss of a Super Tanker and its cargo of oil? We will discuss this later, for now we will assume Iran has deployed Anti-Ship Mines in both the incoming and outgoing sea lanes. Contrary to popular belief this can be easily done and in a very short period of time. Iran has a large fleet of small but fast attack boats that they have outfitted as suicide boats.
These can be used to attack commercial shipping that doesn’t have the weapons to thwart an attack. They are vulnerable to RPG attack or being rammed by a boat filled with high explosives. The next logical step Iran would take would be to randomly scatter anti-ship mines in both the inbound and out bound shipping channels. Note: These shipping channels are very narrow with an average width of only 2 miles for each shipping lane with a 2 mile separation lane in-between them. This restricted area allows a relatively few mines to pose a significant threat to both civilian and military ships. Iran can deploy several types of mines in a very short amount of time utilizing several methods of deployment. First of all they can use their small fast attack boats to rapidly drop 1 or 2 mines at a time randomly in all 3 lanes. Next they can utilize their Chinese made and supplied EM-52 Rocket Propelled Fast rising Mines, these are normally laid by submarine but can be adapted to surface ship or boat deployment. Iran does have 3 KILO Class Soviet Submarines that are capable of laying mines and firing guided anti-ship torpedoes. These mines lay on the bottom so are unseen on the surface and are harder to detect and destroy. Iran also has several Surface to Surface Anti-Ship Missiles such as the Ghander Missile that can be launched from static ground installations or fired from Iranian Aircraft or made mobile by fitting the launchers to trucks. Iran possesses a variety of anti-ship missiles, with varying ranges such as, the Zafar, Nasr-1, and the C-802 to name just three. Although Iran’s Navy and Air Force is limited and far out classed by American weapons they still can cause the oil consuming nations a lot of economic trouble. The world’s economies run on oil and any interruption would play havoc with the world economy. America is really the only nation that can mobilize the forces needed to keep the Strait open and safe for shipping. Iran could initially succeed in stopping all traffic trying to navigate the sea lanes because the commercial shipping companies could not take the chance of losing an oil tanker to a mine or anti-ship missile. The U.S. Navy would then be tasked to clear any deployed anti-ship mines and neutralize any remaining threats from the air, land or sea.
Now we move from the interruption of commercial sea traffic to armed conflict between Iran and the U.S. One has to keep in mind that Iran has been buying some of the most sophisticated air defense weapon systems that the Russians and Chinese had to offer. It is an integrated system of radars and surface to air missiles [SAMS] launchers they have pre positioned around their major cities, oil fields and of course their nuclear weapon development sites. While they do posses a mixed bag of combat aircraft none are combat efficient against America’s newest fighter aircraft. It would be a foolish pilot indeed to engage American F-15 Eagles, F-16 Falcons, FA-18 Hornets or the new F-22 Raptors. As happened with Saddam Husseins air force during the first Gulf War the Iranian Air Force would be neutralized within hours of any outbreak of hostilities. The aircraft Iran possesses are mostly older and not up to modern capabilities. For instance the F-14 Tom Cats that were sold to the now dead Shaw were never sent with same equipment and instrumentation that American Navy F-14’s were equipped with. Spare parts are also a problem for the now retired fighter. Iran has tried to develop its own spare parts but the F-14 is now significantly out classed by its replacement the EA-18 Super Hornet. Some of their other aircraft is more modern but these planes proved to be easy kills for American and Coalition pilots during the Gulf War and Iranian pilots are of the same caliber as far as training. Iran’s modern and well coordinated air defense system would prove to be a tougher nut to crack but is still not a real threat to stop America from gaining full air superiority.
We will now look at America’s possible response to Iran mining the Strait. The U.S. Navy has at least two full Carrier Groups stationed in the Middle East with more support when or if needed. These would be held out of harm’s way until the American Air Force had a chance to neutralize any hostile aircraft and attacked ground based threats. The United States has had Spy Satellites in geosynchronous orbit that would have pinpointed any static based defense systems using both radar and high resolution digital cameras and would have designated them with GPS targeting. These targets can then be attacked using air or ship launched Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles [TLAM] or Joint Direct Attack Munitions [JDAM] dropped by Fighter Bombers or B-2 Spirit Stealth Bombers. This would take out a large portion of the SAM fixed sites and with the use of AGM-88 Harm anti radiation missiles, Iranian Radar Targeting Systems would be struck as soon as they turned on their radars to illuminate American aircraft. The HARM is a fire and forget missile that once it has been targeted against an enemy radar installation it marks that co-ordinance in its chip memory and even if the radar is turned off the HARM will still strike its intended target. With the ever decreasing threat against the Carrier Groups they would then proceed into the Strait area to start clearing any Iranian mines that had been laid and to destroy any fast attack boats that may be used by the Iranians to attack the Carrier Group or any civilian sea traffic. As of this date the US Navy has 8 Mine Sweepers in the immediate area ready to start mine clearing operations if needed. Protecting these ships as well as the Carrier Group are the Carrier Air Wing, Group Defense Ships that include up to 2 Aegis Guided Missile Cruisers of the Ticonderoga Class, 3 Guided Missile Destroyers of the Arleigh Burke Class, and 2 Frigates and generally 2 Los Angeles Class Submarines. Depending on the mission the Group may also have an Amphibious Task Force including an Amphibious Assault Ship with its detachment of U.S. Marines if it is thought to be needed to assault a land based enemy. While the Carrier Group/s are securing the shipping lanes Air Force units would continue to neutralize any ground threat. Deep strikes into Iran could be carried out by armed UAV’s such as the MQ-1 Predator or by one of the Stealth Aircraft such as the F-117 Night Hawk, F-22 Raptor or the B-2 Spirit. There is always the possibility that America would take the opportunity to attack Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Facilities during this possible operation.
Iran knowing that their attempt to close the Strait would be short lived because even they know the outcome is without doubt. America’s superior military would succeed in reopening the Strait and render their military ineffective as a threat to anyone. Therefore it is reasonable to consider that a second course of action would be considered and quite possibly put into play. Iran’s sworn enemy is Israel and their leaders have said on many occasions that Israel should be destroyed and cease to exist. Iranian thinking would no doubt use the hatred of most Arabs of Israel to garner support by attacking Israel directly. They could attempt this by using their Ballistic Missiles such as their newly tested Shahab-3 that is capable of hitting Israel. Iran would not be to concerned about what targets it destroyed because just the fact that Israel was attacked would be enough for Israel to respond therefore bringing the other Arab countries to Iran’s side. Israel’s response would almost certainly be immediate and massive.
How Israel and the United States would coordinate such an attack is at doubt at this time with the current Obama Administration. Certainly some communication between the two would have to happen so that each side didn’t accidentally fire on each other countries aircraft. It is also a known fact that Israel possesses up to 300 nuclear weapons of its own that in a worst case scenario could be brought into play. It is generally thought by most military and foreign affairs analysts that most all Arab countries would stay out of any potential war between Israel and Iran because they disagree with Iran’s nuclear weapons program that has served to destabilize the entire Middle East. The Iranian allies of Russia and China would also stay out of the fight because it isn’t in their current interests to get into a confrontation with the US at this time.
Some may ask if America would even do anything if such a crisis were to develop because of the current Obama Administration. One needs only to think in terms of the political situation in America right now. Obama is seeking re-election as President of the United States and is facing very stiff competition from his challenger Mitt Romney. America’s economy is in steep decline and the unemployment rate is extremely high at 8.2% that is unacceptable to most Americans. Obama has been accused and shown to be weak on Foreign Policy and if it were seen that he showed strength in dealing with the closing of the Strait of Hormuz and the Iranian nuclear threat it would be a political landfall for him. I and others have no doubt that Mr. Obama would leap at the chance to enhance his image and raise his chances for re-election.
What would be the lasting effects of such a scenario be? At least a temporary huge spike in oil prices, which would send an already financially troubled world into financial and political chaos. The effects of such an action could reverberate for months or years to come. Iran has put itself into a corner with their insistence on a committed nuclear program and has limited its options to defuse a dangerous situation. Unless Iran finally agrees with the U.N. and the rest of the world and ceases its nuclear ambitions, either this scenario or one similar to it will surly happen sooner or later. Keep your eyes on Iran and the Middle East for there is where the danger lies. Will cooler heads and sensibility prevail? Only time will tell and time is rapidly running out.
Update: The Strait of Hormuz