Closing the Strait of Hormuz?

via Iran Threatens to Block Oil in Reply to Sanctions – NYTimes.com.

WASHINGTON — A senior Iranian official on Tuesday delivered a sharp threat in response to economic sanctions being readied by the United States, saying his country would retaliate against any crackdown by blocking all oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz, a vital artery for transporting about one-fifth of the world’s oil supply.

Merely uttering the threat appeared to be part of an Iranian effort to demonstrate its ability to cause a spike in oil prices, thus slowing the United States economy, and to warn American trading partners that joining the new sanctions, which the Senate passed by a rare 100-0 vote, would come at a high cost.

The first sanctions against Iraq, in 2006, did nothing to slow their uranium enrichment program.  Although Iran claims the program is solely for peaceful purposes, Western nations are fearful of a ‘nuclear Iran.’  The new sanctions would hit India and China, as well as Europe, very hard, since they buy most of Iran’s oil.  Supposedly the slack could be picked up by Saudi Arabia, but many analysts don’t think that’s possible.  Undoubtedly the price of oil would rise.

Some economists question whether reducing Iran’s oil exports without moving the price of oil is feasible, even if the market is given signals about alternative supplies. Already, analysts at investment banks are warning of the possibility of rising gasoline prices in 2012, due to the new sanctions by the United States as well as complementary sanctions under consideration by the European Union.

Rising oil prices could set back the economic recovery, and cause more economic woes worldwide.  But an even worse outcome is possible – can Iran really block the Strait of Hormuz?  What will our response be if they try?

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