Incident: Iran has test-fired a newly upgraded missile system near the strategic oil and gas Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf. The Raad (Thunder) missile system launches missiles with a 50-kilometer range and the capability of hitting targets at 22,000 meters. The Iranians also successfully tested underwater and surface-to-surface rockets.
Bottom Line: Iran’s nuclear program is a red herring. The real threat is Iran’s conventional forces, and any posturing on either side over the nuclear program is politics for public consumption only. Iran will not move to block the Strait of Hormuz unless directly attacked and at present is simply demonstrating its capabilities in the form of deterrence.
Analysis: The Strait of Hormuz—a crucial passageway for global oil exports--is Iran’s wild card, and this is the first place it attempts to demonstrate the prowess of its conventional forces in any standoff with the West. When Iran maneuvers very publicly in the Strait of Hormuz, it is generally a tit-for-tat response to a particular action by Israel or the US. In this case, the tit-for-tat involved in part the US move to enact a law targeting Iran’s alleged influence in Latin America by bolstering surveillance at US borders with Canada and Mexico to “prevent operatives from Iran […] Hezbollah or any other terrorist organization from entering the United States.” The war between Iran and the US is a covert one—and what is aired in public—particularly in relation to Iran’s ‘nuclear program’—is a smoke screen for other operations.
About this time last year, the US sent a letter to Iran warning it against any move to block the Strait of Hormuz. Days later, an Iranian chemist involved in Iran’s nascent nuclear efforts was assassinated in Tehran. The war between the two is covert because attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities—which actually do not contain any nuclear weapons—would be illogical and have no effect on a program that does not yet exist. What Iran does have is fairly strong conventional forces, but it is very cautionary. Both sides are attempting instead to launch covert operations. In the case of the US (and its ally Saudi Arabia), these covert operations are intended to destabilize Iran from within—particularly on Iran’s restive border with Pakistan, in the Baloch province (more below).