Conflict & Justice

Deja vu! This whole standoff with Iran has happened before


An Iranian Army soldier stands guard on a military speed boat during the 'Velayat-90' navy exercises in the Strait of Hormuz in southern Iran on Dec. 28, 2011.



You've probably heard that Iran is threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz, a key waterway where anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of the world's oil passes through.

It's the latest lob in a growing crescendo of war rhetoric between Iran and the West. Iran's threat comes as the European Union moves to place a ban on Iranian oil imports, which would be back-breaking for an Iranian economy that is already reeling from other wide-ranging santions imposed on it by the United States, not to mention poor economic policy on behalf of the Iranian government itself.

All of this is a reaction to the belief that Iran is seeking nuclear capabilities for more than just energy.

The back and forth accusations and reports have become so frenetic that any casual observer might think war is inevitable.

The truth is, this has all happened before. And war didn't break out then either.

The last time Iran and the West came this close to conflict in the Strait of Hormuz was in 2008 when Iranian and US naval vessels nearly clashed, at least, that is, according to the US military. The story goes that several Iranian patrol boats encircled three US warships in the Strait, making hostile gestures and threatening over the radio that an attack was imminent.

The US released what it said was the radio transmission. But the Iranians say it was fabricated and other experts have cast doubt on the recordings as well. Iran said the run-in was a common occurence that happens to everyone in the busy Strait and that the United States was just creating a media frenzy, part of its never-ending effort to slander Iran.

A few months after the standoff Iran said it would close the all-important waterway, which would be really bad if you happened to be an oil market, if it was ever attacked by either the United States or Israel. The US scoffed, saying such an action would be an act of war. And things spiraled out of control until eventually, nothing happened.

The US presence in the Strait has long caused tensions in the region, but epecially since the late 1980s when a US warship accidentally shot down an Iranian passenger jet, killing almost 300 civilians.

Still, Iran has never actually closed the Strait and war between the United States and Iran has never actually erupted in any traditional fashion. Both sides seem perfectly content to rely instead on a more covert kind of war.