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How reckless would Iran be?

By Walt Braun

Iran has been at it again, doing what it can to provoke the international community. This time, because of European nations’ decision to tighten sanctions that Iran saw coming for months and could have avoided, it has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz to oil traffic.

In fact, its top naval officer has boasted that doing so would be “easier than drinking a glass of water.”

The credibility of that claim aside, if Iran wants war, closing the Strait of Hormuz — or even trying to — would be a good way to start one. The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, would doubtless intervene, using force as necessary.

Iran’s in a tough spot, one of its own making. It’s alienated much of the world, including many of its neighbors. Sanctions, some in place since rioters in 1979, spurred on by the Ayatollah Khomeini, stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, have taken their toll on Iran’s economy. Additional sanctions in recent years, however, have been applied to pressure Iran to stop its quest for nuclear weapons. Iran wants the world to believe its nuclear ambitions are entirely peaceful.

And now its mindset seems to be that if it cannot participate in the oil industry, it might as well ruin things for everyone else – exporters and importers alike. That would be an act of desperation.

Whether Iran will go that far is a fair question. Common sense suggests otherwise. Iran can’t come close to matching the U.S. Navy, and sinking an oil tanker or mining the strait would not endear Iran to any other nation.

What’s more, it could cost the regime domestic support. Iranians, already deprived of many goods and services as a result of their government’s actions, would doubtless suffer further. They might well side with their rulers out of a sense of nationalism. But given what they’ve seen occur throughout the Middle East — popular uprisings in one nation after another — they might well decide they’ve had enough.

Unfortunately, common sense doesn’t always guide decisions by Iranian officials, either the clerics or the secular leaders. They can be crafty; perhaps this saber-rattling is simply to drive up the price of oil, which would benefit them, however briefly. They’ve also demonstrated that they’re capable of saying — and doing — just about anything; there’s little reason to doubt they’re capable of such a reckless act as trying to close the Strait of Hormuz.

Whatever Iran could gain from such aggression would be temporary; what it loses would be long-lasting.

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