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What's behind Iran's aggression in the Strait of Hormuz?

Melissa Etehad, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

The seizure of a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is the latest example of how tensions between the U.S. and Iran have spilled into one of the world's most strategic and vital waterways for oil. Since May, Iran has been accused of harassing and attacking oil tankers in the strait.

As the British government continues to investigate Friday's seizure, experts worry that it raises the potential of a military clash. However, they also say it offers a lens into Iran's strategy toward the U.S.

Here is a look at what's been happening and why the Strait of Hormuz matters.

Q. Why is the Strait of Hormuz important?

A. The Strait of Hormuz is the busiest, most important waterway for the world's oil industry. More than a third of the world's seaborne oil passes through the strait, which connects the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman and is situated between Oman and Iran. In 2016, the Energy Information Administration estimated that 18.5 million barrels of oil passed each day through the shipping lane, which is only two miles wide.

Q. What's been going on there?

 

A. Over the last several months, the United States has accused Iran of attacking and harassing commercial shipping vessels on the waterway, as well as shooting down a U.S. drone over the Persian Gulf.

And American warships have had close encounters with Iran's Revolutionary Guard.

In recent weeks, the U.S. and its allies have found themselves responding in a tit-for-tat with Iran. On July 4, British marines seized an Iranian oil tanker off the coast of Gibraltar after claiming it had violated European Union sanctions by transporting oil to Syria. Late this week, the U.S. said it had downed an Iranian drone; Iran denied it.

The events have raised concerns that the tensions could lead to a military conflict.

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