Could Iran disrupt Gulf oil flows?

The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said last week that Tehran would block all exports through the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf if countries followed the US “request” that other countries stop buying Iranian oil from November 2018, reports Reuters.

With 20% of global oil consumption passing through the Strait from Middle East crude producers to major markets, several interested parties are concerned that Iran had the means to block the  Strait of Hormuz if it so desired.

Iran cannot legally close the waterway unilaterally because part of it is in Oman’s territorial waters. However, ships pass through Iranian waters, which are under the responsibility of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Navy. In 2016, the Guards interrogated and held US sailors overnight after they entered Iranian territorial waters elsewhere in the Gulf. A year earlier, Iran fired shots at a Singapore-flagged tanker which it said damaged an Iranian oil platform. Iran also held a container ship and its crew for a week over a debt dispute after diverting it with patrol boats in the Strait.

Going back further in time, in 2007, Iran detained British sailors further north in the Gulf.

Iran also performs annual war games and tests medium range cruise and ballistic missiles. Deputy head of IRGC Hossein Salami said in 2014 that Iran could use its cruise and ballistic missiles and drones, mines, speedboats, and missile launchers in the Gulf area to confront the US.

In 2015, the Guards staged a drill that was shown on state television in which a replica of a US aircraft carrier was destroyed with missiles and speed-boats loaded with explosives while the guards practiced laying mines in the Strait.