By Arab News
By Abdulateef Al-Mulhum
Every five years, the Iranians would threaten the whole world that they would close the Strait of Hormuz. They never did. They simply can’t do it and they are not capable of doing it even if they wanted to do it.
The Strait of Hormuz is the most important waterway in the world. It is about 35 miles wide. And an average of 15 oil tankers pass through it each day. Most people associate the Strait of Hormuz’s width with the navigation channel and the traffic separation scheme. This is a normal maritime procedure to separate inbound and outbound traffic. The width of the navigation channel is only six miles including the traffic separation scheme. The traffic is monitored by the Sultanate of Oman by radar located on an Omani island. Ships do eventually pass thorough Omani and Iranian territorial waters. A two-mile wide navigation channel is very narrow in maritime terms. And the strait is very shallow.
My first experience with navigating the Strait of Hormuz was in 1983. The strait is very challenging to navigate. You are restricted in your ability to maneuver.
Mariners still remember the collision in the early morning hours of March 20, 2009 between a US Navy submarine (USS Hartford) and a US Navy ship (USS New Orleans) when they were operating in the Strait of Hormuz. And on Jan. 10, 2007 there was a collision between a Japanese tanker and the US Navy submarine, USS Newport. This shows how difficult it is to operate in the strait. Also, the area of the strait was the scene of a fierce, one-sided battle in April 1988 between the US Navy and Iranian forces. The reason for the one-day battle was that the US Navy ship, USS Samuel Roberts struck a mine which was planted by the Iranians. And navy analysts expected to see Iran become more moderate after the battle in regard to the closure of the strait or mining the waters. The irony about this battle was that most of the Iranian aviators learned their flying skills in the same institute as the American aviators. They were all trained at Pensacola Naval Air Station, Florida. And most of the Iranian naval officers aboard the sunken frigate went to school with some of the American officers aboard the US Navy ships. Some of the Iranian and American officers aboard the ships involved in the battle were classmates of mine in America. The Iranian and American navies had officers who knew each other and attended the same school. And until 1980, there were Iranian officers who were roommates of American officers’ candidates in New York. The dead Iranian seamen have a statue at Behesht Alzahra in Tehran.
In military sense, Iran could dump empty barrels in the middle of the navigation channel and declare to the world, it is mining the strait. Mariners take these threats at face value and treat the empty barrels as active mines. But, it is unlikely for Iran to declare anything in this nature. And if Iran announces an official declaration to close the Strait of Hormuz, then, Iran is committing a political and military suicide. The Iranians will not know what hit them. We all know what happened to Jamal Abdul Nasser when he closed the Strait of Tiran in 1967.
Iran doesn’t have the military capability to close the strait. About three years after the 1988 battle with the Iranians, the US Navy aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, while patrolling the Arabian Gulf, launched F-14, F-18 and E-2 aircraft day and night.
The Nimitz was cruising at a speed of 2 knots (3.7 kilometers per hour). So, if the Nimitz can launch planes at this speed, this means it can cruise for three straight hours crossing the Strait of Hormuz six-mile navigation channel in perpendicular fashion and not worry about any maneuver. The Iranians knew about what the USS Nimitz can do. The Iranians later on decided to use a safer approach to defend the Iranian shores. They installed Silkworm Anti-Ship Missiles. But, later on they realized they can’t protect these missiles. They remembered what happened to the Syrians when they had their missiles in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon without air superiority.
The Iranians don’t have the sophisticated torpedoes, sophisticated surface to air missiles and they don’t have any airborne radar (AWACS) capability. As for their outdated diesel submarine, the Iranians are not well trained for sophisticated under-water operations and their submarines have a very limited underwater capabilities. And the weakest Iranian military point is that they don’t have an air force. The F-14 (Tomcat) and F-4 (Phantom), the Iranian high-tech planes are very old and their radar system, like the F-14’s AWG9 radar is not working because of lack of maintenance, spare parts and age. Their pilots are always operating in the dark because they have no command and control. The only strength the Iranian have is the land forces. They could mass hundreds of thousands of soldiers. But, these forces will be useless for sea battles. And these land forces have no air support.
And believe me, I have nothing against Iran. But, why doesn’t Iran try to get closer to its neighbors? And haven’t they learned from the lost hundreds of thousands of lives during the Iraq-Iran War? It is easy to start a war, but difficult to end it. The Iranian military does not want any new encounter with Americans. They simply want to live in peace and harmony.
I lost many of my Iranian classmates from my school in New York in Iranian conflicts and adventures that should have been avoided. The sad thing is, those Iranians were truly officers and gentlemen. They didn’t need to die.
— Write to Abdulateef Al-Mulhim at: [email protected]