Editor's Note: Dr. James M. Lindsay is a Senior Vice President at the Council on Foreign Relations and co-author of America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy. Visit his blog here and follow him on Twitter.
By James M. Lindsay
Why is Iran’s threat to shut down the Strait of Hormuz attracting so much attention? Because as the chart above shows, the strait really is a choke point when it come to the transportation of oil. Only the Strait of Malacca, which runs between Indonesia and Malaysia, comes close in its importance to world shipping.
Nearly sixteen million barrels of oil move through the Strait of Hormuz each day. That translates to nearly twenty percent of all the oil moved daily.
Now for the good news. The odds that Tehran could shut down the strait are close to nil. Iran’s naval capabilities are mediocre at best, blocking a twenty-mile wide stretch of navigable waters is hard, oil tankers don’t burn or sink easily, and the U.S. Navy has enormous capabilities to keep the strait open. And in the highly unlikely scenario in which the Iranians succeeded in shutting down the strait, they would be the biggest losers. They depend on oil exports to keep their economy running. What the Iranians can accomplish with their saber rattling is to make the markets nervous, drive up the price of oil, and test Washington’s will.