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‘Could they? Yes. Will they? Probably not’: Doubts over Iran’s Strait of Hormuz threat

Security experts poured cold water on the suggestion Iran would block crucial shipping lane

An Iranian navy chief said Iran could close the Strait of Hormuz as he pledged to ‘punish Israel’ for a lethal strike in Syria, which killed a Revolutionary Guards’ general

THE commander of Iran’s navy reminded the world who controls the Strait of Hormuz this week, though any follow-through has been deemed unlikely.

Alireza Tangsiri told Iran’s semi-official Student News, “we can close the Hormuz Strait but are not doing so. However, if the enemy comes to disrupt us, we will review our policy”.

His comments follow an attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus. Iran blamed Israel for the attack.

Brigadier-General Mohammed Reza Zahedi, who led Iran’s Quds Force in Syria and Lebanon, was among the dead. Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed: “Israel will be punished.”

Closing the Strait of Hormuz would imperil shipping. In March, 103 10,000+ dwt cargo-carrying ships passed through the strait every day on average, according to Lloyd’s List data analyst Bridget Diakun.




The US Energy Information Administration estimates 21m barrels of oil per day flowed through the Strait in 2022, or 21% of global liquid petroleum consumption.

Iran has threatened to close the strait before, including as recently as November.

EOS Risk Group head of advisory Martin Kelly said Iran could attack ships in the strait with anti-ship missiles and drones if it chose to.

“It has got the capability to attack ships transiting through the strait” he told Lloyd’s List.

Kelly continued: “Another way to close the Strait of Hormuz is to say they were conducting mine exercises and some ordinance fell overboard.

“Some shipping companies may refuse to transit the strait and it would be deemed closed, but without intent on the international stage.”

This echoes a string of incidents in 2019, when four vessels were attacked in the Gulf of Oman with suspected limpet mines. Iran was said to be behind the attacks, which left many shipowners pondering whether or not to continue voyages through the strait.

Will Iran close the Strait of Hormuz? 

“Can they? Yes. Will they? Probably not,” Kelly said.

“It’s probably a good political tool. In terms of practicality, Iran is really unlikely to close the Strait of Hormuz. It would be a red line to the US and Western shipping companies.

“They’d also be restricting exports of Iraq, Kuwait, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.”

EIA and Vortexa data show that the majority of crude oil and condensate transported through the chokepoint in the first half of 2023 came from Saudi Arabia and Iraq, as well as Kuwait, the UAE and Qatar.

Andreas Krieg, senior lecturer in the school of security studies at King’s College London, called Tangsiri’s comments “not one of the worst threats we’ve heard from Iran”.

Krieg said relations between Iran and other Middle East Gulf states were warming and Iran would not want to imperil this.

“Major escalation wouldn’t help anyone,” he said.

Krieg said Houthi-style attacks on ships were unlikely.

“What’s happening around the Bab el Mandeb is very different,” he said.

“A militia nobody trusts is interfering in freedom of navigation. For a state to do this would be absolutely unacceptable. It would reflect so badly on Iran and have little to no effect.”

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