This is not the first time that Iran is threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz to its Arab neighbors’ oil exports in retaliation for a US ban on its foreign oil sales. Tehran made this threat twice before in 1988 and 2014. The latest threat to block the chokepoint, through which 20 percent of the world’s crude passes, came directly from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a tour of Europe and Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guards external operations. But the difference between now and then is that the Gulf powers are not relying solely on American power in the region to resolve the crisis. Since President Donald Trump changed the rules by taking the United States out of the 2015 six-power nuclear deal with Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been gearing up to fight back for an Iranian closure of the vital lifeline for their oil exports. DEBKA Weekly’s military sources report they have been conducting joint exercises for practicing air and missile strikes against Iranian oil installations along the Gulf coast.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), for their part, have for two years been drilling tactics for closing Hormuz by operations on the Yemeni Red Sea coast and the Bab al-Mandeb Straits, our sources also reveal. They have developed five different tactics:
- Sowing mines along the 29-nautical mile width of the Strait of Hormuz. Its shallow depth of less than 300 feet makes its bed ideal for moored contact mines.
- Torpedoes. The Iranian Navy maintains 6 frigates, 5 Kilo-class submarines, around 100 guided-missile patrol boats and at least 30 mini-submarines at bases near the Straits. A Kilo-class sub holds eighteen 533mm torpedoes, which could sink a supertanker although the shallow depth in the Strait is a constraint.
- C-802 and C-201 coast-to-ship missiles fired from batteries mounted on trucks opposite the Strait. IRGC officers used Yemeni Houthi positions on the Red Sea coast to fire these missiles against US, Saudi and UAE warships in 2016-2018. A US Navy ship in the Red Sea attacked and destroyed one of those positions when it came under attack. The Iranian assaults were judged at the time to be practices for a real operation against Hormuz shipping.
- Direct missile strikes against tankers, which would spark a dreaded “tanker war.” Even Aegis vessels would find it hard to protect a supertanker from an anti-ship missile. On the other hand, they are huge and well-fortified, so an 1100-pound warhead from a C-802 would cause a fire and oil spill, but not sink one.
- All the weapons in the Iranian armory which are maintained in naval bases on Iran’s offshore islands of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunb islands which lie 60 kilometers north of the UAE’s Gulf coast.