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General says 'chokepoints' are key to power.

The former commander of the Pasdaran says the Muslim world can dominate the global economy by its control of major maritime chokepoints such as the Strait of Hormuz and the Suez Canal.

Major General Rahim Yahya-Safavi, who is now an adviser to the Supreme Leader, said Islamic countries are located on both sides of these chokepoints, giving Muslims great power over the entire world.

He did not mention that the only way to exercise that power would be to threaten to seal off those chokepoints, which would be an act of war.

Safavi said, "About 80 percent of the world's trade is done through maritime transport and the ships have to pass through these strategic chokepoints."

There are six such chokepoints in the world, and Muslim-majority countries lie on both sides of five of them. Listed in the order of the volume oil passing through them, the chokepoints are:

* Strait of Hormuz, with Iran and Oman flanking it.

* Strait of Malacca, flanked by Indonesia and Malaysia.

* Bab el-Mandeb, with Yemen on one side and Eritrea and Djibouti on the other.

* Suez Canal, entirely within Egypt.

* Bosphorus, entirely within Turkey.

* Panama Canal, entirely within Panama, the only non-Muslim state on a chokepoint.

Safavi urged the Muslim states to take advantage of the "superior geo-political, geo-strategic and geo-economic conditions" they possess by virtue of their presence on these narrow chokepoints.


Actually, he exaggerated the importance of the chokepoints and of threats to close them. Only the Strait of Hormuz is a major chokepoint and its significance is lessening as more Arab oil producers on the western side of the Persian Gulf build pipelines to take oil across the Arabian peninsula to avoid the Strait of Hormuz chokepoint. The irony is that Iran is the only country in the world that sends the totality of its oil exports through the Strait of Hormuz, making it a vulnerability for Iran.

As regards the other chokepoints, the Bab el-Mandeb and Suez Canal are already bypassed by the many super-sized oil tankers that cannot fit in the canal and go around the Horn of Africa. The Strait of Malacca can easily be bypassed by sailing farther south and east. The Bosphorus is important for Russia, Bulgaria and Romania but more and more oil is transported through pipelines bypassing the chokepoint.

Safavi said the chokepoints were also important in military terms. He said that when the United States was preparing for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, it sent more than 200,000 troops to Iraq by sea through chokepoints. Actually, the United States has not dispatched any troops by sea in almost half a century. All the troops that invaded Iraq were sent by air. However, the overwhelming bulk of heavy supplies--tanks, artillery, ammunition, food--were sent by sea and went through the Strait of Hormuz.

Safavi said the main part of America's military power lies with its navy. This fact, he said, makes the United States vulnerable to Muslim nations, thanks to their control over the world's strategic chokepoints.

While much of his logic and many of his facts were questionable, the fact remained that Safavi seemed seriously to believe the Islamic world, operating as a unit, could throttle the rest of the world and extract concessions by threatening to choke off the chokepoints.
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Title Annotation:Keeping an eye on rhetoric
Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Date:Jul 15, 2011
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