Lindsay: Why the Strait of Hormuz matters
January 8th, 2012
03:07 PM ET

Lindsay: Why the Strait of Hormuz matters

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.

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Topics: Iran • Military • Oil

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    True, the closing of the Strait of Hormuz will affect the oil price, as 20% of the world's production pass through this choke point. It's time for the GCC countries to think seriously building rails and pipelines that transport the oil from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia to Oman. Iraq would have a real problem were the strait to be closed, it would mean the demise of the city Basra.

    January 8, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Reply
  2. opit

    As far as Iran`s ability to close the strait goes,one factor will be the effect on insuring shipments.
    Another is wargaming results – which hardly reflect your analysis
    Not that wargaming foresees the real world.
    And sanctions affecting Iran so desperately after decades of imposition must surely go along way to consider this what it has been always but was denied : open warfare on Iran.
    Where is the loss then from closing the strait as the policy tends to disable this leverage.
    Not that representing the nation fighting against nuclear arms as being the real danger has proved totally incorrect – as they are now reported as being able to precision target Israeli WMD and potentially turn it to dirtybombs threat against Israel. Nasty as that is, poetic justice sounds about right.
    Also old phrases like balance of terror and mutually assured destruction apply : though the mention of Russia`s determination to treat the security of Iranian power generation as their vital concern should have become as evident as when they responded to US WMD in Turkey decades ago to precipitate the Cuban Missile Crisis.
    We live in interesting times still.

    January 8, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Reply
  3. JAL

    Late 2012 prediction here: This will be the year of proper engagement.
    JAL out

    January 8, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Reply
  4. rick

    it appears that its time to test the will of Iran and send the Stennis through the straits. If the Stennis is attacked, Qum nuclear facility goes up in flames and Iran's martyr complex is satisfied. a win win result

    January 9, 2012 at 7:55 am | Reply
    • Ana

      Sooo, you rellay believe we should kiss and make up with Iran and toss Israel? And notice i was able to write a sentence with out having to use insulting curse words.

      February 10, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Reply
  5. Prince lebari

    I think Iran should stop ranting like a child, n should show some serious respect 2 d US, n stop putting it citizens @ risk by looking 4 trouble, cos wen d US and it allied come calling it's military cannot match there might, neither will it be able 2 fire it so call missiles or nuclear weapons.

    January 9, 2012 at 8:33 am | Reply
  6. Hahahahahahahahaha

    It matters. But Iran doesn't. Hahahahahahahahaha.

    January 9, 2012 at 9:31 am | Reply
  7. RCDC

    The USA is rich in natural resources (Oil, gas,coal, gold, etc). USA is in the 3rd raking in the world oil production. We (USA)
    also been developing algae fuel and bio fuel and been currently used and tested by the US navy, army and airforce. All we need is to mass produce and export this algae fuel to meet the 50% oil requirement needs and help the country in the process.

    January 9, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Reply
  8. Kolev

    this is why motherland is superior.

    January 10, 2012 at 1:55 am | Reply

    I dont understand why Obama so silent....8000 people already killed by bashar al kalb in syria, many more killed in iran prison, and hizboallah are killing the oppositions in lebanon ,iraq and syria.......Qadhafi killed few hundreds and he was that because suria have not much oil!? how about IRAN THEY are helping syria and hizboallah and they have oil , evil helping evil, terrorist helping terrorist why USA is silent!? attack now before it is too late. IRAN WITH A NUCK IS LIKE A DEVIL IN CONTROL OF THE UNIVERSE. If obama want to win this election he must attack iran now. get red of the snake head and the rest will be dead slowley.....

    January 13, 2012 at 9:40 am | Reply
  10. discussionofviews

    Why is the question being asked, whether Iran can shut down the Strait of Hormuz? Those asking the question, should ask some other questions to themselves, about how they think about Iran.

    January 15, 2012 at 11:02 am | Reply
  11. Sara

    Interesting ctnemmos:French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a "liar" in remarks to US President Barack Obama overheard by journalists."I can't see him anymore, he's a liar," Mr Sarkozy said in French."You may be sick of him, but me, I have to deal with him every day," Mr Obama replied.The exchange at the G20 summit was quoted by a French website, Arret sur Images, and confirmed by other media.VN:F [1.9.10_1130]please wait...Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

    February 11, 2012 at 8:47 pm | Reply

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