History of Strait of Hormuz

How a Waterway Sparked Multiple Conflicts

The Strait of Hormuz is strategically vital as most of the oil in the region is transferred to Europe, North America, and Asia via the waterway. Since the end of the Second World War, there have been multiple conflicts that have affected trade through the strait and have made Iran’s economic bloodline unusable.


In 1941, Britain forced Reza Shah Pahlavi to step down due to his relations with the Axis powers. Soon after, his son Mohammed Reza Pahlavi became the new Shah. By 1951, the new Shah appointed veteran politician, Mohammed Mossadegh, to be the new prime minister having been nominated by the Iranian parliament. Mossadegh already had ample experience as he was a long time member of parliament and held many ministerial posts. Mossadegh was a nationalist and sought to have Iranian industries benefit his country. As such, he decided to nationalize his country’s oil reserve; this violated a contract Iran had with British Petroleum (BP), which gave Britain preferential treatment with regards to the country’s oil reserves. Britain would bring the case to the International Court in Belgium, which ruled in favor of Iran. Britain’s naval forces would then blockade the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz to cut off Iran’s economic bloodline. This would prove to be the first of many conflicts to take place in Hormuz.


Shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Iranian regime would be embroiled in a major military conflict with Iraq which would last eight years. By 1980, Saddam Hussein led an attack on Iran fearing that the Iranian regime would attempt to spread its ideology throughout the rest of the region. Despite the heavy battling, the Strait of Hormuz remained passable throughout most of the conflict. During the war, the United States had made multiple statements in which it stated that if any closure were to happen to the strait, then it would get involved in the conflict. Despite these warnings, Iran carried out many hawkish attacks on unarmed Arab oil tankers passing through the strait. In 1984, Iran attacked a Kuwaiti oil tanker moving through the strait. In 1986, Iran would go on to attack the Saudi oil tanker, Petrostar 16, which set the ship ablaze and wounded six individuals. The continued conflict led Iran to move its shipping port from Kharg Island to Larak Island. The US would eventually get involved in the conflict in 1988 after an Iranian mine damaged the American naval ship, USS Samuel B. Roberts, prompting US forces to sink several Iranian ships including one frigate and one gunboat.  


Things remained relatively quiet in the strait after the war, bar a standoff between US and Iranian naval ships during late 2007 to early 2008 after the latter had provoked the former. However, no damage or casualties happened during the standoff. But in June 2008, Iran made a new kind of challenge in which it threatened to close off the strait if the US or Israel ever attacked it.

In 2012, Iran repeated such threats after new sanctions were imposed on it. Despite the fact that the threats did more harm to its economy (the value of its currency fell right after it made such statements) it continued to challenge the world. In response, a flotilla composed of American, British and French warships docked in the Persian Gulf as to prevent the disruption of maritime trade. Moreover, the European Union imposed more sanctions on the Iranian regime to prevent it from making such threats again.

Now at the present day, the Trump administration has re-imposed sanctions on Iran to stop it from developing its nuclear program. Despite, the economic hardships its people are going through, the Iranian regime has shown little signs of wielding its weapons program. Furthermore, it has now renewed threats to close off the strait, but as history has shown, such threats do more harm than good.