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How Serious Are Iran's Oil Threats?

Yesterday, a senior Iranian official, in response to threats of U.S. sanctions, declared that the proposed measures could spark an energy crisis. Referring to sanctions aimed at deterring Iran’s nuclear program, Mohammad-Reza Rahimi, Iran’s first vice president, said that an American crackdown would mean that “even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Strait of Hormuz.” Just how crucial is the Strait of Hormuz?

According to information from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the Strait of Hormuz­­­ is a “chokepoint”—a narrow channel on a major sea route where even temporary blockage “can lead to substantial increases in total energy costs.” And the Strait of Hormuz, which connects the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea, is “the world's most important oil chokepoint.” In 2009, about 17 percent of all oil traded worldwide passed through it. That probably explains why, as The New York Times notes, Obama administration officials have recently emphasized that “the United States has developed a plan to keep the strait open in the event of a crisis.”