The Iranians are planning to enforce a crossing toll for the Strait of Hormuz, as tensions between Iran and the West rise.
According to reports, Iran’s parliament is on the verge of enacting a “protection” tax for all international vessels traversing the waterway. In a speech to colleagues, a senior member of the Iranian parliament said foreign commercial entities should compensate Iran as “the true provider of security in the region and international waters.” The state-run Tasnim News Agency quoted Amirhossein Qazizadeh Hashemi, a leader of the conservative FIRS Party, as arguing that ships enter Iranian waters on their way through the Strait and should therefore pay a toll.
First, to get this basic point out of the way: The claim of Hashemi and his colleagues is sheer and utter nonsense.
Hormuz has been an international waterway for millenium. The passageway serves as a vital route for dozens of countries in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. While it is technically true that territorial waters of both Iran and Oman are entered in order to traverse the Straits, no country can reasonably use this as an excuse to block the route. This internationally recognized standard has been the modus operandi for a very long time, certainly one that precedes the current regime in Tehran. As former U.S. Naval officer and current researcher at the Heritage Foundation Thomas Callender so accurately put it: “There’s no question whatsoever about the rights of commercial vessels and tankers transiting the Strait of Hormuz […] to be trying to charge essentially tax to pass through this is a form of extortion.”
What is really going on with talk of a crossing toll for the Strait of Hormuz? Simply put, Tehran is trying to find the most aggressive way to retaliate over recent maritime confrontations with the West. The Strait of Hormuz and its potential exposure to Iranian aggression has long made it a target of threats for the Mullahs.
It should further be pointed out that any attempt to impede passage through the Strait would be met with serious reactions from the region’s stakeholders. Aside from the fact the U.S. has long taken on ensuring freedom of the seas in the Middle East, many other nations with substantial navies such as South Korea and Japan would almost certainly react harshly. Some countries, like India for instance, have already taken active measures in deploying naval assets to protect their ships in the area.