Reports that commercial ships have become targets of alleged sabotage near the Strait of Hormuz have focused new attention on a vital waterway.
- Tensions between the US and Iran are heating up around the Strait of Hormuz — a narrow strip of water through which one-third of the world's oil flows.
- Tehran has repeated its long-standing threat to close the strait, and the US has vowed to keep it open.
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Reports that commercial ships have become targets of alleged sabotage near the Strait of Hormuz have focused new attention on the region as tensions have risen.
A look at the key waterway:
Where is the Strait of Hormuz?
The Strait of Hormuz is the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf. It is in the territorial waters of Iran and Oman, which at its narrowest point is just 33 kilometers (21 miles) wide. The width of the shipping lane in either direction is only 3 kilometers (2 miles).
It flows into the Gulf of Oman, where ships can then travel to the rest of the world. The strait is viewed as an international transit route.
Why is the strait important?
One third of all oil traded by sea passes through the strait. Anything affecting it ripples through global energy markets, raising the price of crude oil. That then trickles down to consumers through what they pay for gasoline and other oil products.
The view from Iran
Iran's Shiite theocracy long has looked at the presence of US forces ringing its country with suspicion. One flash point is the Strait of Hormuz.
The strait is viewed as an international transit route. US forces routinely travel through the area, despite sometimes-tense encounters with Iran's Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. For its part, Iran compares the American presence to Tehran sending warships to the Gulf of Mexico.
"Breaking: Our Navy operates in — yes, correct — the Persian Gulf, not the Gulf of Mexico. Question is what US Navy doing 7,500 miles from home," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif once tweeted in 2017, attaching a map showing the distance between the two bodies of water.
Why is it in the news?
Since President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and others in Tehran have reinvigorated a long-made threat that the Islamic Republic could close off the strait.
Meanwhile, Gulf officials say that a "sabotage" attack targeted oil tankers off the coast of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates. That's a point where many ships traveling through the strait stop.
What happens now?
US forces routinely travel through the strait, despite sometimes-tense encounters with Iran's Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier and its strike group are expected to arrive after the White House deployed it there amid still-unspecified threats from Iran. Given the tension, any incident between Iranian and US forces could escalate the situation.