Iran wants to give a show of strength. After threatening to block oil transports in the Persian Gulf, it has now announced maneuvers involving long-range missiles in the strategically important waterway.
Iran will "test several long-range missiles in the Persian Gulf" on Saturday morning, according to the Iranian deputy navy commander Admiral Mahmoud Moussavi.
Iranian missiles of the Shabab-3 type are theoretically capable of reaching targets in Israel as well as US bases in the Gulf region and Afghanistan.
The missile tests are part of large-scale wargames in the Gulf that started last weekend. Moussavi told the semi-official Fars news agency that the maneuvers, scheduled to last until January 2, will now enter their most important phase. He said the aim was to prepare the Iranian navy for a war-like situation.
Fears of a new war in the region have also been fanned by Iran's recent threat to close off the strategic Strait of Hormuz if Western countries imposed new sanctions on Iranian oil exports.
A large proportion of Middle East oil exports is transported through the over 200-kilometer (124-mile) -long strait, which is only 50 kilometers (31 miles) wide at its narrowest point. It connects the Persian Gulf with the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.
A closure would have serious consequences for energy supply throughout the world. It would make transport routes longer and energy costs would rise.
Iran feels insecure, according to Nirumand
"The Americans cannot allow this strait to be closed off," the Iranian journalist Bahman Nirumand says.
According to Nirumand, a blockade would mean war. And, he says, the Iranian leadership is very aware of the fact.
Iran's leaders divided
Nirumand does not think that Iran really wants to take this risk. However, he says, there are radical factions within Iran's power structures that would welcome a military conflict. "They hope it would increase their power," Nirumand says.
"In Iran, there is an enormous power struggle between different factions. This can also been seen in the way the foreign minister says completely different things from the military. The question is which faction can prevail and what the Supreme Leader decides."
Limited military capacity
The political scientist Jochen Hippler from Duisburg-Essen University does not think that Iran will block the Strait of Hormuz in reaction to sharper sanctions either.
"The Iranian leadership is not pulling together on this question," he says.
Hippler says Iran would not be able to maintain the blockade for more than two or three days anyway, owing to the US's great military superiority.
The head of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), Volker Perthes, said things would be very different if Israel or the US were to attack Iranian nuclear sites.
In this case, he says, Iran might resort to this as a last-ditch means of retaliation. The Iranian navy could lay mines in the strait using small boats, for example: a method that would be much more difficult to counter militarily than a blockade by warships.
The conflict with Iran cannot be resolved with military means anyway - on this point, Nirumand, Hippler and Perthes all agree. All three appeal for a de-escalation of the situation and a return to diplomacy.
"Even the more severe sanctions will certainly not lead to Iran abandoning its nuclear program," Hippler says. He says it is time for a longer-term concept.
Security guarantees for Iran?
"The Iranian regime feels threatened," Bahman Nirumand says. The country is surrounded by American bases. And neighbors such as Pakistan, India, Russia and Israel have atomic weapons.
"If a solution is to be found, the security of Iranian borders must first be guaranteed," he argues.
Nirumand calls for a comprehensive peace plan and for a nuclear-free zone to be established in the region.
"The nuclear sites can be bombed. If Iran really is building a bomb, that will be delayed by one or two years, but then it would be continued. The problem needs to be solved at its roots."
Author: Nils Naumann / tj
Editor: Nicole Goebel