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Given that Iran would most likely initiate hostilities, it would have considerable advantages over U.S. and Western forces. It could opt to mine and blockade the Strait, then, knowing this to be a “red line” for the West, launch an attack on U.S. ships in the vicinity. Its Kilo subs deployed in the Arabian Sea would attack U.S. carrier groups, which could also be hit by strike aircraft. These could cause significant damage. Once U.S. forces cleared the approaches to Hormuz, they would have to fight their way into the Gulf. They would run a gauntlet of anti-ship missiles and mines, which could be used in swarms to sink or cripple American vessels. Western naval units in the Gulf could come under attack by additional small craft, along with Iran’s force of frigates and strike aircraft. Moreover, if Iran wanted to, it could conduct an airborne and amphibious assault on Hormuz, which is controlled by Oman. This would place Iranian forces on both sides of the Strait, equipped with missiles, and would require U.S. ground forces to be landed to clear them out (similar assaults would have to be made on Qeshm and the other nearby Iranian islands for the same purpose.)
All of this would result in considerable losses in men, aircraft and ships, if the fighting was limited to the vicinity of Hormuz. However, it is unlikely that Iran would do so. It would likely initiate general hostilities throughout the Gulf, using its own forces and proxies to attack Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies (along with attacks on Israel.) As a result, Persian Gulf oil supplies would be severely disrupted. As the GAO report of October 2006 noted, an Iranian embargo alone could cause up to $200 billion in GDP damage to the U.S. economy, while loss of Saudi oil could cause a staggering $832 billion worth. The impact on the global economy would, to say the least, be cataclysmic.
Nor is this the only way Iran could deny the Strait. Iran could wage a war of attrition, mining parts of the channels or launching hit-and-run attacks with missile-armed speedboats against tankers. This would avoid all-out war with the West, while wearing down its resolve to confront Iran on its nuclear program, since oil prices would be forced up.
It is therefore incumbent upon the West, especially the United States, to maintain the utmost vigilance in the region, and to ensure that not only the means, but the stated will, to use force if Iran should block this vital waterway is in no doubt.
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