After Iran threatens US carrier, bluff will probably be called
Crude oil prices surged after Iran dialed the threat-o-meter up to 11 with a vow to attack a US aircraft carrier if it returns to the Strait of Hormuz. The US 5th Fleet is likely to take up the challenge.
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It's worth remembering that US ships repeatedly crossed Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi's so-called "Line of Death" after he declared international waters off the Gulf of Sirte as his own in the 1970s.Skip to next paragraph
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While Iran is no match for America's conventional military ability, something Iranian war planners should be well aware of, the increasingly strident threats and counter-responses are increasing the chances of fighting in the area. After Qaddafi's forces reacted hostilely to the US Navy presence in the Gulf of Sirte in 1986, a brief engagement ended with two Libyan ships sunk. In 1987 the USS Stark, on a mission to protect oil tankers during the so-called "Tanker War" between Iraq and Iran, was hit by Iraqi missiles, with 37 crewmen killed. Saddam Hussein's Iraq insisted that the attack was a case of mistaken identity.
All of this should be a reminder that tension and posturing can lead to casualties. And those casualties could lead to broader conflict. Iran is clearly worried about the increasing bite of economic sanctions and is seeking to remind the US and other potential antagonists that the cost of confrontation will not be born by Iran alone. The tough talk today saw benchmark brent crude jump 3 percent to more than $111 a barrel in early trading.
Iran's riyal tumbled as much as 12 percent against the dollar yesterday on speculation that legislation recently signed by President Obama threatening to sanction businesses and governments that do business with Iran's central bank will cut the country off from world commerce. Though AFP reports that the riyal made back most of its loses today, others in Tehran reported long lines at some local banks and merchants seeking to move cash abroad. The currency remains down about 30 percent in the past month.
The economic vulnerability of Iran, combined with the regime's continued insistence that it won't abandon its nuclear program (which it says is for peaceful purposes only), is likely to continue to drive threats like the one made today. While we're a long way from open war, rumors of war and threats of war have a way of leading to the real thing.