Former CIA Director Michael Hayden (USAF Gen, ret) is reported by FoxNews as saying,
But externally it [closing the Straits of Hormuz] just doesn’t make any sense.
Number one, they [Iran] need the straits as much, perhaps more, than anyone else, the free flow of oil, otherwise their economy is more in the tank than it is today. Number two, does closing the straits make Iran more or less isolated? … Does closing the straits make it more or less likely that someone will think it’s a legitimate step to attack the nuclear facility at Natanz? I think it makes it more likely. So why would the Iranians do that?
Our government’s blinders here (yes, Hayden isn’t any longer in the government, but those who are think similarly) is the utter misunderstanding of Iran and its goals. As Hayden also says, “This government and its decision-making processes are incredibly opaque.”
I offer some clarification, from my lofty perch on my navel.
“Number one, they need the straits as much, perhaps more, than anyone else, the free flow of oil, otherwise their economy is more in the tank than it is today.” Number one, the sanctions going into place have the potential to seriously threaten their ability to export oil due to a lack of buyers. In that scenario, no, they won’t “need the straits…”.
“Number two, does closing the straits make Iran more or less isolated?” Does Iran care about its isolation? Certainly the lack of international intercourse can hurt, but is the Iranian government’s pain tolerance the same as ours? Plainly not. Nor does the Iranian government care about its isolation as isolation. Finally, do the Iranian people have any capacity to act, should they disagree with their government? Those people watched while a previous American administration seemed to incite Iraqis to rebellion against Saddam after our first Iraq war and then stood by while Saddam butchered the Shiites and Kurds. Lately, they did try to act against their government and experienced the present administration standing by and watching the present Iranian government butcher them.
“Does closing the straits make it more or less likely that someone will think it’s a legitimate step to attack the nuclear facility at Natanz?” The Iranian government, after years of loud and vociferous chit-chat and firm finger-shaking by the rest of the world, and after years of active support by Russia and the PRC for the Iranian nuclear program, has no reason seriously to think anyone will do anything at all along these lines. Oh, and not being complete fools, they have been dispersing and bunkering their nuclear weapons facilities. They think the Israelis might have the stones to act, even though an Israeli mission is fraught with difficulties and has an uncertain outcome. The Iranian government isn’t too worried about strikes; a greater or lesser likelihood of one is irrelevant to them.
Understanding the threat from a nation begins with understanding that government’s goals. Let’s broaden Hayden’s question of “why would the Iranians do that?” One overriding goal of Iran’s is the utter destruction of Israel. To that end, a successful nuclear weapons program gives them the tools with which to achieve that. They don’t care the cost to themselves of achieving that destruction; indeed, Iran (at least those who populate the government; the only ones whose goals matter) will simply view their own fate as honored martyrdom.
Another overriding goal of theirs is the destruction of the United States. To that end, a successful nuclear weapons program also is useful for arming terrorist groups who then will attack the United States (and Europe, and the hands that feed their armorer, Russia and the PRC). Again, both the terrorists and the Iranian government will simply view their own destruction as a martyrdom to be sought after.
This threat doesn’t think like we do. Basing our assessments on the premise that they do is fatally flawed.