Is Iran Following in Qaddafi's Footsteps?

Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz to foreign military vessels, much as Qaddafi did with the Gulf of Sidra in the 1980's.

Gabe Kahn. ,

Straits of Hormuz
Straits of Hormuz

An Iranian parliamentarian said Tuesday that all foreign warships will soon be unable to pass through the Strait of Hormuz unless they first receive permission from the Iranian Navy ships deployed in the region.

"If the military vessels and warships of any country want to pass via the Strait of Hormoz without coordination and permission of Iran's Navy forces, they should be stopped by the Iranian Armed Forces," Nader Qazipour told FNA.

Nader said the plan will be presented to the parliament's presiding board next week. Iran's navy is drawing up a strategic plan to enforce the decision should it be approved.

His remarks came hours after Iran warned the USS John C Stennis carrier group not to return to the Persian Gulf after it passed through the strategic strait into the Gulf of Oman.

The Strait of Hormuz is 34 miles wide at its narrowest point. Under international maritime law nations may not claim more than 12 miles of coastal waters as their own.

Analysts say any decision by Tehran to close the Strait of Hormuz to foreign vessels of any type would likely be a calculated decision by Iran aimed at testing American will.

The United States Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, has said any attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40% of the world's oil supplies flow, would be a "an act of war."

In 1981late Libyan Dictator Muammar Qaddafi attempted to claim the entire Gulf of Sidre as Libyan national waters and began deploying warplanes to harass US warships conducting exercises there. The confrontation ended with two Libyan warplanes shot down after they fired a on a US Navy F-14 Tomcat.

In the spring of 1986, the U.S. Navy deployed three aircraft carrier task force groups, USS America, USS Coral Sea and USS Saratoga from the Sixth Fleet with 225 aircraft and some 30 warships across Qadaffi’s so-called "Line of Death" and into the disputed Gulf of Sidra.

After a day of armed conflict, the operation was terminated after an unknown number of human and materiel losses to the Libyan side and no losses to the American side.

Military analysts note that while Iran has the capacity to close the Strait of Hormuz if unchallenged, the United States has an asymmetrical military advantage that would render keeping the strait closed impossible for Iran were the US to act.

The United States currently has three carrier groups – as well as other elements of the Fifth fleet – In striking range of the Strait of Hormuz. It would also likely have access to the airbases of its Gulf Arab allies, as well as the support of their air forces, were Iran to force the issue.

The threat to close the strategic waterway to military traffic is only the latest of Iran's bombastic threats to rattle the world economy by choking off oil supplies.