In the past year, the United States has imposed new sanctions on Iran meant to cripple the country over its nuclear program. Some of the measures have targeted the country’s oil exports, long the lifeblood of its economy. Iran, in defiance, has said it would begin to enrich uranium at higher levels as soon as Sunday. If tensions persist, disruptions along the strait, where the shipping channel is barely two miles wide, could be felt in India, China and dozens of other countries that buy Middle Eastern oil in large quantities.
The surge has changed the dynamics of the world’s oil market, which has long taken its cues from OPEC, the cartel of oil producers that includes Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Iran. In previous eras, attacks in the Strait of Hormuz would have sent the price of oil spiraling down. The oil market’s response to the recent tanker attacks has been muted, in part because of how much oil now comes from the United States. As its reliance on Middle Eastern oil has decreased, the United States has found itself in a stronger position when dealing with countries like Iran.