A ‘Tanker War’ with Iran Would Be More Complicated Than the 1980s Version


Professor Lawrence Brennan was quoted in a Los Angeles Times article comparing the Trump administration claims that blame Iran for several tank explosions to the U.S.’s involvement in the “tanker war” of the 1980’s.

The United States and other nations entered the fringes of the conflict when the warring neighbors launched attacks on international oil tankers transiting the strategic waterway — at that time, the route for most crude reaching the rest of the world.

The U.S. Navy was among several forces that began to escort the vessels, clear mines floating in the sea and patrol the shores in search of missile batteries, launching what became known as the “tanker war” of the 1980s. More than 200 boats were attacked and dozens of sailors killed, including 37 Americans.

Today, as the Trump administration and Iran trade accusations and insults, tensions have soared once again in the volatile region, with the U.S. blaming several tanker explosions on Iran and stoking fears of a broader conflict and a new, more dangerous tanker war.

If Iran was responsible for the most recent attacks, on June 13, as the Trump administration claims, the explosions would be significant because they would mark the first attack outside of the Persian Gulf. They took place in the Gulf of Oman, gateway to the Arabian Sea and, beyond that, the Indian Ocean.

“That was a big statement,” said Lawrence Brennan, a professor at Fordham University who specializes in maritime law and served as a Navy captain in the Persian Gulf. The question, he said, “is how far they [the Iranians]will go, how deep they want to go.”

If Iran has different munitions this time around, the U.S. Navy has its own concerns.

The American fleet no longer has the number of large frigates that worked the Persian Gulf in the 1980s, often serving as ad hoc minesweepers thanks to their girth and reinforced hulls, Brennan said.

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