Yet geography tells a more important story in the Gulf region: The current tensions are less about Iran and the Persian Gulf than about China and the Indian Ocean. Whether the Trump administration realizes it or not, what is occurring in the American-Iranian standoff is about something much vaster.
The Gulf of Oman separates not only Oman and Iran, but also Oman and Pakistan. In the southwestern corner of Pakistan, close to the Iranian border, China has completed a state-of-the-art container port at Gwadar, which Beijing hopes will eventually link up with roads, railways and pipelines to western China. And from Gwadar, the Chinese can monitor shipping traffic through the Strait of Hormuz.
In other words, China is already in the Middle East. The Chinese are now contemplating the construction of a naval base nearby, adjacent to the Iranian border. More crucially, the Gulf of Oman has become more than just a waterway for oil that America, with its shale gas revolution, requires less and less of. It is a hinge uniting the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and East Asia in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.