With tensions between the U.S. and Iran at historic levels after the recent attacks on commercial shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, it’s worth looking back on the history of Iranian interference in the highly strategic waterway.
The strait remains perhaps one of the most important waterways in the world with about 40 percent of the world’s entire oil supply passing through it.
The straight became even more important after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, which saw the extreme Islamist government of Ayatollah Khomeini take power from the Shah, who had been a steadfast ally of the United States during the Cold War.
Since the Revolution Iran has had a long history of attempting to interfere in trade crossing through the strait of Hormuz, in the name of dealing blows to “The Great Satan” (the name given by the Ayatollahs to the United States) and its allies.
1) The Tanker War: During Iran’s almost decade long struggle with its neighbor Iraq, it began to attack Iraqi oil freighters that were passing through the strait. Iran also decided to place mines in the strait which disrupted shipping lanes.
2) Operation Preying Mantis: The Iranian mining of the strait resulted in the USS Samuel B. Roberts hitting one of the mines, and almost being sunk. In response the US Navy struck back, launching “Operation Preying Mantis” which would turn out to be one of the largest surface engagements the Navy had undertaken since the second world war.
By the end of the operation, almost half of the Iranian surface fleet was either damaged or sunk by the U.S. Navy, which sustained minimal losses. In addition to bombarding Iranian oil platforms, surface targets and fast attack craft the US also easily sunk the Iranian Frigate Sahand.
Operation Preying Mantis was considered a massive success and dealt a huge blow to Iranian morale as well as to their ability to interfere with shipping passing through the Strait of Hormuz for years to come.
3) The 2008 Naval standoff with Iran: In 2008 the Iranian navy began an aggressive campaign of harassment against US ships in the region, coming extremely and dangerously close to the US vessels. Though they backed down right before fire was exchanged, the incidents marked a significant escalation on the part of the Iranians, who were obviously growing bolder.
4) 2011 Offical threats from the President of Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz: The Obama presidency saw a major uptick in aggressive action and rhetoric coming from Iran regarding the Strait. In 2011 the President of Iran officially threatened to cut off all transport through the straight if US sanctions continued.
5) 2016 Abduction of US Sailors: In 2016, at the end of the Obama administration, Iran abducted ten US sailors who had accidentally sailed into Iranian waters.
6) 2019 Attacks on Oil Tankers: 4 ships have now been attacked over the past several months as they transited through the straight, with both President Trump and US intelligence agreeing that Iran and/or its proxy forces in the region are to blame.
With chaos in the Strait of Hormuz once again in the news, it’s good to keep in mind that the recent attacks on shipping in the Strait, aren’t there first. And unless action is taken, they probably won’t be their last either.