After various incidents in the Strait of Hormuz, tensions between Iran and the West have increased considerably. Several oil tankers have been sabotaged and drones have been shot from the sky. The United States and the United Kingdom are considering intervening in the sea area near Iran.
1. The Strait of Hormuz
The Strait of Hormuz is between Iran and Oman. The straits connect the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman, which in turn ends in the Arabian Sea. At its narrowest point, the Strait of Hormuz is 33 kilometers wide, with both shipping routes only 3 kilometers wide.
Annually, one fifth of all oil in the world passes through the Strait of Hormuz. In 2018, according to the United States, there were 21 million oil barrels per day.
OPEC countries Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Iraq export most of their crude oil through the Strait. Qatar, the world’s largest exporter of the liquid gas LNG, is fully using the strait to export its gas.
2. The sanctions
In 2015, France, Germany, the UK, Russia, China and the US signed a nuclear treaty with Iran. This nuclear agreement concluded in Vienna is intended to remove the international community’s concern about an Iranian nuclear bomb.
The United States will step out of the Iran deal in May 2018. According to US President Donald Trump, there are indications that Iran is making nuclear weapons.
In recent months, Trump has been busy again tightening the thumbscrews of Iran. The Americans are imposing new sanctions on Iran in the spring. These sanctions are intended to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero.
The US will then also introduce sanctions at the end of June for each country that imports crude oil from Iran. However, the European countries do not want to give up the nuclear agreement. In order to trade with Iran, without violating US sanctions, the European Union uses a separate trade channel (INSTEX).
3. The political tensions
American security adviser John Bolton says on May 5 that there are indications of an “unknown threat” in the region around Iran. According to him, allies of the US, who are present in neighboring countries Iraq and Syria, would be at risk. The United States decides to send an aircraft carrier and bombers to the Gulf region.
Iran has quadrupled uranium production during that period. The country will soon have more enriched uranium in stock than is permitted under the nuclear agreement. It is clear that Iran is increasing the pressure.
The Pentagon responds by sending a thousand extra soldiers to the Middle East. Trump even threatens once with a rocket attack on Iran in the period of tension, but blows it off after a strong discussion in the White House.
4. The incidents
In the meantime, several incidents occur in the period from 5 May to the present. Four oil tankers are being attacked on 12 May in the Persian Gulf, near the Strait of Hormuz. The Americans hold Iran responsible. Iran denies and the Americans do not provide evidence.
Two oil tankers are being attacked again on 13 June. This time the US is presenting images showing how members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRG), a military elite force, are taking an exploded adhesive mine from the side of an oil tanker. Iran again denies and accuses the US of “Iran-phobia.”
Then Iran gives a clear signal: on June 20, the country takes down an American espionage drone. According to Iran, the drone flew into its airspace. The US states that the unmanned aircraft was shot down above the Strait of Hormuz, in international airspace. This incident was the reason for Trump to threaten the rocket attack.
After the drone incident, the American warship shoots an Iranian drone from the sky above the Strait of Hormuz. Iran denies that it has lost a drone.
5. The British get involved
At the beginning of July, the United Kingdom, at the request of the Americans, locks an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar. According to the British, the tanker is violating EU sanctions by cruising to Syria with crude oil.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard reacts furiously and threatens publicly with retaliation against the British. On July 19, the IRG reports that it has seized a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. According to the United Kingdom, a second British tanker has also been confiscated, but Iran says that this ship has only received a warning.
Trump promises his support for the British and sees new reasons for a harder action against Iran. The United Kingdom is targeting a naval mission under European leadership in the Persian Gulf.