Gulf Arabs prepared for Iran showdown if Hormuz blocked: official
Published Monday, January 30, 2012
Coastguard and naval forces of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) group of Arab countries have contingency plans for a possible attempt by Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz, a Kuwaiti maritime official said on Monday.
Five of the six GCC members – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Kuwait – rely on the world's most important energy shipping lane being open to export most of their oil and gas.
Tehran has threatened to close the narrow shipping lane between Oman, the only GCC member which does not depend on Hormuz, and Iran if Western sanctions aimed at starving Iran's disputed nuclear program of funds prevent it from selling oil.
The GCC members, which also rely on the four-mile-wide channel being open to import food for their growing populations, has now drawn up a contingency plan in case Iran acts on its threats.
"Exporting oil or importing goods and cargo through Hormuz is a main concern for the GCC," Commander Mubarak Ali Al-Sabah, chief of maritime operations at Kuwait's Coast Guard told Reuters in an interview.
"The GCC has a plan as a body – not just Kuwait separately or Bahrain or Saudi Arabia – we have a plan we just hope that everything stays safe," Al-Sabah said, without giving details of the plans.
"Awareness and understanding of the consequences of it has increased," he said.
"We have plans how to deal with this but didn't do field exercises on it."
Al-Sabah said the planning included coordinating both between coastguards and navies of GCC countries and with Western naval forces patrolling the area – including US, British, Australian and French navies.
Iran's naval power significantly dwarfs that of Gulf Arab states, raising doubts about the ability of the GCC to confront Iran without Western support in the event of a crisis.
Kuwaiti and Iranian coastguards hold regular meetings on how to manage their shared maritime border, with the next one scheduled for next month, he added.
Oil tanker flows through the Strait of Hormuz are estimated at around 16 million barrels per day (bpd), or just under a fifth of global oil supplies.
A new pipeline from the UAE's oilfields to the Gulf of Oman could carry most of the Gulf OPEC oil producer's exports if Hormuz were to be blocked.
But even a brief disruption to shipping could stop most of the oil exported from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait and Iraq from leaving the Gulf, along with liquefied natural gas (LNG) from leading supplier Qatar.
In December, the US Fifth Fleet said it would not tolerate any disruption of traffic in Hormuz, but analysts say Iran might be able to hinder traffic transiting the Strait by scattering mines in it.
"In any navy plan that exists there would be plans for swift coordination to de-mine areas that might have been mined...Or act in coordination preemptively or reactively to prevent Iranian small vessels from disrupting shipping," Christian Le Miere, research fellow for naval forces and maritime security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies said.
Earlier this month, Iran's foreign minister warned Arab neighbors not to side with the United States in the escalating dispute over Tehran's nuclear activities which the West says includes weapons development.
Tehran insists its nuclear ambitions are limited to electricity production.