Events in the Straits of Hormuz are not good, not just for the players involved but also for the rest of the world
Pictures of an oil tanker ablaze in the Persian Gulf must have sent shockwaves at every foreign ministry across the world. From the crisis in the mid-1980s, when Saddam Hussein went to war with post-revolutionary Iran, all the way up to the end of the first Gulf war in the early 1990s, this narrow stretch of water, just 21 km wide at its narrowest point, has been the spark plug of conflict across the region. Under the water sits trillions of gallons of oil and gas which have powered the global economy for almost a hundred years now. It is also a region laden with strife, from internecine conflict between the two paths of Islam, Shia and Sunni, to conflicting egos of heads of States, once that of the dictator Saddam Hussein and now that of a whole new cadre of Arab autocrats. Into this picture has entered the United States (US), not to stop the crises in Yemen or Syria but seemingly angling for a whole new fight with Iran. This has been evident in the way US President Donald Trump called off the deal that his predecessor Barack Obama had orchestrated. Iran, too, is not humouring Trump, rejecting American overtures that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently attempted.
But several things have changed since the last time images of burning oil tankers filled newsprint. There has been the transformation of several Arab cities into modern global metropolises, the economies have changed and oil itself seems to be less in demand thanks to progress in new green energy sources. In fact, it is the potential economic damage that a war in the region would cause, rather than any disruption in oil supplies, that is the biggest risk. Take aviation for example. Airlines such as Emirates of Dubai have become some of the largest and most critical inter-continental carriers in the world. In 1988, an American warship, the USS Vincennes, shot down an Iranian passenger jet on its way into Dubai killing 290 men, women and children. A war in the Persian Gulf right now could paralyse air travel out of the world’s biggest air hubs and from an Indian perspective, with Pakistani airspace still closed, this could potentially paralyse air travel between Asia and Europe. Millions of Indians have made their lives across this region, manifold from the start of the 1991 Gulf War. Evacuating them will be a mammoth task. This, of course, ignores the human cost — thousands of soldiers and civilians might die in any potential war. The US and Iran must be pushed back from the precipice though Donald Trump and his advisers seemingly want war and some in the Iranian establishment want to give the Americans a bloody nose. The rest of the world, particularly countries like India, which are friendly with both sides, should do their utmost to prevent any chance of a conflict. Thankfully, things appear that they can still be managed if some egos are massaged. In the end, both US and Iran are muscle-flexing to renegotiate terms for modifying the old nuclear deal. However, at the same time it is imperative that India’s diplomats and government start preparing for the worst and draw up emergency evacuation plans as well as bolster oil supplies. Nobody wants a war and chances of a conflict in the near-term seem remote but it would be prudent to be prepared for one any which way.
Writer & Courtesy: The Pioneer