I’m 225 miles from the Strait of Hormuz. After 18 months in the Middle East, I’m finally close to danger.
Getting from Abu Dhabi to one of the most volatile places on earth is like driving from Tampa to Tallahassee.
You already know why the strait is in the news. In short, the Iranians say they’re going to close it to oil-tanker traffic because they’re angry that the West has imposed sanctions just because they’re trying to build nuclear weapons to frighten the bejesus out of Israel, Saudi Arabia and everyone else in the neighborhood.
Rarely is the United Arab Emirates an international hot spot. Mostly, it’s just that patch of desert that has the tallest building in the world, the most ostentatious malls and the man-made islands shaped like palm trees that are filled with villas no one is buying.
But suddenly I’m near a real Middle East “flashpoint,” as the cliché goes.
But I’m safer here in Abu Dhabi than I would be on S.R. A1A in Daytona Beach during Bike Week. The Iranians can’t block the strait, partly because the United States has its Fifth Fleet stationed in nearby Bahrain.
The fleet is there primarily so no one can stop the oil from going through the Strait of Hormuz and into SUVs in Jacksonville.
Here are some fun facts you can share with your kids if the strait becomes a topic of conversation at the dinner table.
- One sixth of the world’s oil passes through the strait.
- Iranians are not Arabs. They are Persians. This took me by surprise when I got here. They have not liked each other for centuries.
- You probably know the body of water that borders Iran and the Arabian Peninsula as the “Persian Gulf.” But we ex-pats, happily employed here by the Arabs, have been told it’s really the “Arabian Gulf.”
- Iran is to Shiite Islam what Mississippi is to Christian fundamentalism. And Saudi Arabia is ground zero for Sunni Islam. I won’t bore you with details about the sects, but I suspect you know they don’t like each other very much.
- If you’re an Arab World junkie, you probably know that the Sunni rulers of Bahrain have been having a tough time with the majority Shiite population during this lovely Arab Spring of 2011. You may have noticed that the U.S. didn’t have much to say about those troubles. That’s because we like having the Fifth Fleet there so we can make sure there’s plenty of gas in Orlando for all those tourists when they visit.
U.S. politics may depress you from time to time, but trust me, the mix of religion, oil, ethnicities and ancient hostilities over here make Michele Bachmann and Barack Obama look like comfortable peas in a political pod.
A former managing editor of The Palm Beach Post, Tom O'Hara is a senior foreign editor with The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi and a Middle East columnist for Florida Voices.
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