The recent escalation in Iranian threats to blockade oil shipments and attack U.S. Navy vessels are meant to push up the price of oil and divert domestic opinion from an economic crisis but are not likely to lead to a war in the Persian Gulf, in the view of Iran experts.
Should Iran retaliate for impending new sanctions against its oil exports, it is more apt to target oil production in its neighbor, Iraq, than foreign tankers in the Gulf.
"We've seen this movie before," Cliff Kupchan, an Iran analyst at the Eurasia Group, told IPS on Wednesday, referring to Iran's defiant rhetoric and firm U.S. response. "Neither side wants a war. A lot of this rhetoric is overstated."
While there is always a chance for miscalculation in the crowded waters of the Gulf, a clash of words is more useful to Tehran than actual hostilities.
On Tuesday, after Iranian armed forces commander Gen. Ataollah Salehi warned that a U.S. aircraft carrier that left the Gulf last week should not return, the price of oil jumped four percent.
The United States has also benefited from the tensions, recently concluding deals to sell Saudi Arabia 30 billion dollars in advanced weaponry and 3.5 billion dollars in arms to the United Arab Emirates.
Despite threats last week to close the Strait of Hormuz, the choke point between Iran and Oman for much of the world's tanker-borne oil, Iran is not in a position to keep the waterway closed.
During the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, Iran used mines and small boats to attack 190 ships from 31 nations, killing at least 63 sailors, according to David Crist, who wrote a history of naval encounters in the Gulf for The Washington Institute for Near East Policy in 2009. However, the U.S. and allied navies kept the Gulf open for tanker traffic and Iran suffered significant ...