The Last International Crisis of 2011 (or the First of 2012)
Iran has kicked off a 10-day naval exercise in international waters, near the Strait of Hormuz. From the AP:
The exercises, dubbed "Velayat 90," could bring Iranian ships into proximity with U.S. Navy vessels in the area.
The war games cover a 1,250-mile (2,000-kilometer) stretch of sea off the Strait of Hormuz, northern parts of the Indian Ocean and into the Gulf of Aden, near the entrance to the Red Sea, state TV reported.
The drill will be Iran's latest show of strength in the face of mounting international criticism over its controversial nuclear program, which the West fears is aimed at developing atomic weapons. Tehran denies those charges, insisting the program is for peaceful purposes
Those "U.S. Navy vessels in the area" are part of the John C. Stennis carrier battle group, which has been operating in the area for several weeks. In fact, an E-2C Hawkeye from the carrier's air group flew the last American mission over Iraq last weekend.
Iran reportedly plans to use its exercise to show off military hardware that could be used to close the Strait of Hormuz, including submarines, anti-ship missiles, drones, manned aircraft and surface vessels. The drill took on added significance when an Iranian politician recently boasted that Iran might actually close off the strategic waterway during the drill. However, the Iranian foreign ministry quickly backed off that claim, although military officers have reaffirmed Tehran's ability to carry out such actions.
The real danger, of course, is what can happen when poorly disciplined Iranian air and naval crews operate in close proximity to U.S. ships and aircraft. The margin for miscalculation is large, especially when you consider that Tehran would love nothing more than provoking a major confrontation with the United States, and shift attention away from its nuclear program.
On the other hand, Iran may find it more beneficial to temper its fanatical desires. Sure, creating an incident in the strait would generate a global trade crisis and produce a major spike in global oil prices. But it would also invite an expanded American military presence in the region, at a time when our forces are completing their exit from Iraq.
Clearly, our forces in the region are operating under strict rules-of-engagement. But our personnel can also exercise their inherent right to self defense, if the Iranians threaten American military forces. With Tehran feeling its geopolitical oats right now, it's not unreasonable to expect some type of confrontation between U.S. and Iranian forces in the coming days. From Tehran's view, such an encounter would serve a useful purpose, illustrating how far the Obama Administration is (or isn't) willing to go in defending our interests--and allies--in the Gulf.