From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Strait of Hormuz
Mains level : US-Iran turmoil and its impact on India
Why in news?
- The Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping route linking Middle East oil producers to markets in Asia, Europe, North America and beyond, has been at the heart of regional tensions for decades.
- Recently two Saudi oil tankers were among vessels targeted in a “sabotage attack” off the coast of the UAE, condemning it as an attempt to undermine the security of global crude supplies.
- Iran’s foreign ministry called the incidents “worrisome and dreadful” and asked for an investigation.
Strait of Hormuz
- The Strait of Hormuz is a strait between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
- It provides the only sea passage from the Persian Gulf to the open ocean and is one of the world’s most strategically important choke points.
- The waterway separates Iran and Oman, linking the Gulf to the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea.
- The Strait is 21 miles (33 km) wide at its narrowest point, but the shipping lane is just two miles (three km) wide in either direction.
Why does it matter?
- The US Energy Information Administration estimated that 18.5 million barrels per day (bpd) of seaborne oil passed through the waterway in 2016.
- That was about 30 per cent of crude and other oil liquids traded by sea in 2016.
- With global oil consumption standing at about 100 million bpd, that means almost a fifth passes through the Strait.
- Most crude exported from Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UAE, Kuwait and Iraq — all members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries are shipped through the waterway.
- It is also the route used for nearly all the liquefied natural gas (LNG) produced by the world’s biggest LNG exporter, Qatar.
Why always in turmoil?
- During the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, the two sides sought to disrupt each other’s oil exports in what was known as the Tanker War.
- The US Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, is tasked with protecting the commercial ships in the area.
- The fleet ensures that the critical waterway remains open, provocative Iranian military maneuvers are likely in the immediate offing as is a nuclear restart.
- Iran agreed to rein in its nuclear programme in return for an easing of sanctions under a 2015 deal with the United States and five other global powers.
- Washington pulled out of the pact in 2018. Western powers fear Iran wants to make nuclear weapons. Tehran denies this.
- The UAE and Saudi Arabia have sought to find other routes to bypass the Strait, including building more oil pipelines.
Have there been incidents in the strait before?
- In January 2012, Iran threatened to block the Strait in retaliation for US and European sanctions that targeted its oil revenues in an attempt to stop Tehran’s nuclear programme.
- In May 2015, Iranian ships fired shots at a Singapore-flagged tanker which it said damaged an Iranian oil platform, causing the vessel to flee. It also seized a container ship in the Strait.
- In July 2018, Iranian President hinted Iran could disrupt oil flows through the Strait in response to US calls to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero.
- A Revolutionary Guards commander also said Iran would block all exports through the Strait if Iranian exports were stopped.
- The US in turn declared the guards a terrorist organization.