Concerning Iran, the U.S., and the Strait of Hormuz

BY Herschel Smith
8 years ago

We’re all aware of the recent boasting over how Iran can shut down the Strait of Hormuz.  We also know all about the pipelines being constructed by the UAE in an attempt to circumvent the Persian Gulf and thereby defang Iran in its hegemony over the region, at least as regards its threats over the waterways.

There is also – as usual – the bluster about how Iran won’t possibly make good on its promises, and how the U.S. Navy issued threats of its own.  But rest assured that if the U.S. or Israel launches a strike against the Iranian nuclear program, given the radical Mullahs apocalyptic and eschatological view of reality, they will hold nothing back from their retaliation.

And don’t rest so comfortably in the blustering of of the U.S. Navy.  Their fear of shore to ship missile technology has been the basis for their demurral to define any role at all in what they want so desperately to have a role in, i.e., littoral combat.  They won’t tread any closer than 20 miles to shore, the “beyond the horizon” distance.

As for anecdotal data, consider what happened (I have reported this before) with the 26th MEU in 2008.  The USS Iwo Jima was in vicinity of the very subject of our discussion (somewhere in the Persian Gulf, or Strait of Hormuz), and an Iranian helicopter virtually landed aboard the ship.  The Marines at that time judged a threat and prepared to engage the enemy, but Navy officers, not wanting an incident, of course, ensured that the Marines didn’t respond.

The incident of Iran filming a U.S. Aircraft Carrier rather pales in comparison to an Iranian helicopter hovering just over the deck of the USS Iwo Jima, does it not?  I have no confidence whatsoever in the willingness of the US Navy to engage Iran on any level at all.

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  1. On January 3, 2012 at 8:45 am, TS Alfabet said:

    This is, indeed, the insane world that the Left inhabits: the U.S. must never strike first, even in the face of extreme provocation, but always take the first blow.

  2. On January 3, 2012 at 10:03 am, Rich Buckley said:

    Do the Straights hold historic navigation rights covered by Maritime Law? When does one country hold a recognized legal duty to secure permission to enter coastal waters and where are those distances mapped out in the Straights? 12 miles off the coast?

    If China sent it’s aircraft carrier and support ships inside the Channel Islands of California, I suspect our Navy would suggest to the Commander in Chief a protocol the might appear unusual to the untrained eye.

    A helicopter as Iran is so far using, even though it can be made as lethal as an bomber, conveys a lumbering, hapless sitting-duck target which is part Iran’s intended level of response. It seems to be saying only, “Excuse me, may we help you Bro, this is our hood.”

    And I would think there would be a completely different USN response if say 6 encircling low level (50 feet) high speed (600+ mph) inbound targets appeared on radar, 360, 060, 120, 180, 240, and 300 relative bearings to our carrier. Wouldn’t you?

    So far a very careful language of diplomacy is being used, it seems to me.

    It’s time to

  3. On January 3, 2012 at 10:29 am, Herschel Smith said:

    Strange moral equivalence argument Rich. We (we in America, that is) haven’t threatened to blow the world up into a huge conflagration in order to hasten the advent of the 12th Imam and forcible, worldwide Islamic caliphate where Christians are either killed or convert.

    Or in other words, I am unconcerned about Iran’s concern over their “neighborhood” (and frankly, I don’t understand your concern over Iran’s “concern”). This is the same neighborbhood, recall, where Iran has killed U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon.

  4. On January 3, 2012 at 3:03 pm, Warbucks said:

    I host a number of levels of ignorance in my understanding of the region for sure. There seems to be more than one level of moral equivalence, the words of Government (vs. actions of Government) and the words of the people (vs. the actions of the people).

    It seems to me that our USN is listening to the voices and actions of the people of Iran more than the voices and actions of the Government of Iran.


  5. On January 3, 2012 at 3:07 pm, TS Alfabet said:

    Leaving aside for the sake of argument the moral equivalence you draw between Iran and the U.S., the analogy of the Channel Islands of California is a poor one.

    Unlike the Straits, there is no, hourly, international navigation of critical oil supplies through the Channel Islands that I am aware of.

    The Channel Islands are entirely bounded by the territory of the U.S. whereas the Straits are bounded by several, different nations.

    There are special rules of maritime law that apply to straits like the Straits of Hormuz that basically guarantee the free right of navigation in peacetime. These rules do not apply to the Channel Islands.

    The U.S. has secured basing rights for its armed forces and naval forces in several areas in and outside of the Straits which require the free navigation by U.S. Navy. No such thing exists with the Channel Islands.

    In short, the U.S. has every right to be in the Straits and Iran has no right to impede U.S. ships short of open war.

    But as I suspect you knew all along, this is not about international law or maritime law or commerce. Iran does not respect any of those things. This is only about the Iranians putting on a show, rattling the saber and taking the measure of Obama and his reactions (or lack thereof). Those who love peace will not encourage the Iranians with appeasement or indulgence. That will only result in escalation.

  6. On January 3, 2012 at 3:34 pm, scott s. said:

    There is a slight, but not show-stopper legal issue. In light of various interpretations over the years, a Law Of The Sea treaty was negotiated which positively defines the right to transit of international straits. Unfortunately, for other reasons (primarily led by certain conservatives) the US has not ratified this treaty. The US though, has acted as though it abides by the navigation provisions of the treaty. An argument can be made that the navigation provisions have attained the status of “customary international law” and are thus enforceable. Note also there is the traditional concept of “innocent passage” which also is codified in the treaty.

  7. On January 3, 2012 at 5:23 pm, Warbucks said:

    I’m never disappointed with the high caliber of information gained off this site. It was first, the underlying legal aspects of Maritime Law and Law Of The Sea treaty that I was interested in learning, and each of you gave me a much better on-point understanding than I held before.

    Does anyone know if there is a legal distance from shore that nations along the Straights can enforce as their own and rightfully challenge passage in this area? I don’t know where the exactly shipping channels run but the narrowest passages seem nearly 100 miles wide:,56.541138&spn=2.935632,3.449707&hnear=Strait+of+Hormuz&t=m&z=8&vpsrc=6

    So I would guess that Iran sent their chopper out to our carrier into undisputed international shipping lanes, outside any distance from shore that would otherwise allow them to claim absolute sovereignty and right to challenge.

    Also, there is a difference in my judgment that it is one thing to allow Iran’s chopper one taunt and probe and get away with it; it is another thing to assume the USN will always respond similarly. I don’t believe the USN will respond the same way if this starts to happen again. It would strike me then as too reckless. The ship’s Captain would have to be under orders of the Joint Chiefs and the Administration for certain, to allow a second penetration. Anything that would expose the President to that level of apparent incompetence would likely not set well for the Joint Chiefs.

    If Iran does start to run at us again, I would expect our ships to be clearly outside any drop-dead boundary limit controlled by Maritime Law as Iran’s space, wouldn’t you?

  8. On January 6, 2012 at 11:19 am, Warbucks said:

    Writer David Swanson offers an extensive in depth perspective
    on the issue of moral equivalency. Burried in his article called “Why Not Attack Iran?” I was particularly taken by the imagery war makers do not want us to hold
    on a designated enemy.

    This of coarse brings me back to my intuition that the real offensive by the US and its allies needs to bloom in deploying global assets to insure that the alternative media is enabled globally and not controlled by government. In short I believe it is far more important to emphasize what we agree upon and build from that. We appear to a rapidly growing percentage of our own population to have morphed into the state Ike so carefully warned us to avoid. It’s appears to be time once again to amend our US Constitution to rebalance.   

  9. On January 7, 2012 at 4:21 pm, A.M.H. said:

    Helpful article. Many thanks.

    I’m grateful that as a citizen I can vote decisions of life and death into the hands of other men. I’m perplexed, though, by the number of free passes that our country has given Iran in the last thirty years: from the embassy, to Beirut and our Marines, to kidnappings and domestic assassinations, to the last ten years of help in killing Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan — perhaps also major acts of domestic terror. Also, it seems that presidents from Reagan to date have been eager to keep knowledge of such things as quiet as possible. Sometimes they’re as eager as CIA, NSA, and FBI to run interference for the mullahs.

    There’s enough evidence to suggest that Iran meant it when they declared war on the U.S., and that the U.S. is deathly afraid of that threat. In the 1980s, I can imagine U.S. restraint in hopes of bringing Iran back into the fold. Surely there’s not still such optimism, is there? Or did the Soviets/Russians tell us that Iran was off limits? Perhaps Iran buried a few surplus nukes in the U.S.? Or maybe NSA confirmed that the Mahdi is real?

    I’ve read enough crazy mullahs to know that they are not so much crazy as irrationally malevolent, and that they hate the U.S. far more than they detest our co-called Jewish colony. They’re also the main source of M.E. instability. Even with Iran’s stunning ability to play the Left and the legacy media, surely D.C. isn’t innocent of Iran’s aims and objectives?

    Like I said, I’m perplexed. Protect? Defend?


  10. On January 7, 2012 at 5:04 pm, carl said:

    Interesting that you don’t have any confidence in the Navy’s willingness to engage Iran. I wish I could strongly disagree with you but after thinking about it, I can’t. The Navy hasn’t had a real fight since 1945. I wonder if they have developed an unstated belief that victory at sea can only be achieved if we don’t lose any ships. If you get in a real sea fight, you will lose ships so you’d better be prepared for that psychologically and materially. The Navy knew that in 1945. There is a strong possibility they have forgotten.

  11. On January 17, 2012 at 9:33 am, TS Alfabet said:

    Great point, Carl.

    It is too easy to imagine the headlines and fevered CNN reports if even one destroyer of frigate is sunk. For some reason, the American public has an astounding expectation that wars can be fought with virtually no, significant losses. If even 10 soldiers are killed in a firefight or IED attack, it is major news and causes all sorts of soul-searching.

    We are in the ironic position of having the largest Navy in the world but unable to use it for fear of losing even a single ship.

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