Looking for an informed analysis of a scenario where Iran closes the Straits of Hormuz, I found a paper by George Washington University’s Caitlin Talmadge. The young political science professor--who wrote the paper in 2008 when she was a PhD candidate at MIT--once talked down a Toyota dealer from $14000 to $9000, so I figured she must be savvier than most because I usually pay what the dealer asks for and thank him for being my buddy. Still, I had figured out all by myself that the military challenge in blocking the Hormuz is all about naval mines and anti-ship cruise missiles (honar kardam!).
In her detailed analysis of Iran’s military hardware and likely deployment strategy versus U.S. countermeasures Dr. Talmadge’s optimistic estimate for clearing the straits is 37 days. She allows 9 days to eliminate the anti-ship missile threat and another 28 days for U.S. ships to deal with the mines without having to worry about missiles raining down on them. Her most pessimistic forecast is 112 days—72 days for the missiles and 40 days for disabling enough of Iran's naval mines.
Why are these numbers important? Because the world economy likely knows these figures too--or some number in the ballpark. If Iran can keep the Hormuz straits blocked for longer than a nominal 112 days, U.S. allies will begin to lose faith in her as the guarantor of the lifeblood of their economies, energy. This loss of confidence would threaten to unravel the U.S. global empire. The risk is tiny, but the price may be more than the U.S. can afford. So, any U.S. decision maker would hesitate to attack Iran, weighing the low risk against the high price.
One interesting deduction that Dr. Talmadge makes is that Iran likely does not have the Russian SA 300 (SA-10 Grumble) missile defense system. She bases this on the fact that one of Iran’s deterrence strategies is to boast about military hardware. Firing one or two SA 300s during a war exercise would cause the U.S. to reassess how long it would take to open up the Hormuz Straits, causing her to back off for a while. Yet Iran has not used anything like the SA 300 in its war games, even though this system can seriously hamper the ability of U.S. aircraft to take out Iran’s anti-ship missile batteries--while the clock ticks against the 112 days.
Dunno about Dr. Talmadge’s analysis of the SA 300 issue. For one thing, Russia’s claim that the ordered missiles have not been delivered to Iran is a matter of debate. Furthermore, Iran is said to have acquired the missiles from Belarus (who denies it), and Iran may have even developed a similar system on her own. The latter scenario seems unlikely to many experts, but on the other hand it seemed unlikely that Iran had the technology to capture a U.S. aerial drone. Yet Iran has done just that, or has made it appear so. Besides, not every piece of hardware can be displayed for the purpose of deterrence; some things have to be kept as surprises in case war breaks out.
In the conclusion to her analysis Dr. Talmadge seems worried:
“Iran’s limitations, such as the command and control and targeting challenges it would face in littoral [coastal] warfare, are not often appreciated [to find out what these limitaions are, you can read the paper]. But its strengths are often overlooked as well…Likewise, although the United States retains the world’s best conventional military, its past experiences hunting mobile targets from the air and conducting MCM [mine countermeasures] operations in the littorals do not inspire confidence that confrontation in the strait would end quickly.. Given these realities, sanguine assurances about the course and outcome of military conflict in the strait seem unjustified at best, and dangerous at worst.”
Makes sense to me!
Totally unnecessary note: This writing is about just one aspect of the possible Iran-U.S. military confrontation, namely the closing of the Straits of Hormuz.
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