This week, the Iranian currency slid to a record low against the dollar after the United States imposed new economic sanctions over Tehran’s controversial nuclear programme.
Iran’s response was to indulge in a serious bout of sabre-rattling. The country’s army commander Ataollah Salehi threatened to respond with “full force” if a US aircraft carrier is redeployed to the Gulf. “We don’t have the intention of repeating our warning, and we warn only once,” he said.
Iran plans to conduct further military drills in the Strait of Hormuz in February, following on from naval exercises carried out at the end of last year. Salehi has made it clear these are intended as a warning to the United States. “Those who have come as enemies should be afraid of our manoeuvres,” he said. The recent drills featured the test-firing of missiles designed to sink warships.
The Strait of Hormuz is a critical shipping lane leading out of the Gulf. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, 17 million barrels of oil per day passed through the strait in 2011. There is no way the US Navy will be bullied into keeping out of the area and must therefore risk a ship.
So who will blink first?
Clearly, any disruption of Gulf shipping would provide America and its allies with a convenient excuse to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. No matter how hard the sanctions are biting, Tehran’s leaders would not risk that. Would they?