One of the world's most important shipping routes, the strait was also witness to one of the world’s deadliest aviation disasters.
It’s one of the most important waterways in the world and has been in the news for weeks now.
The Strait of Hormuz has been the backdrop for the seizure of a British-flagged tanker, the Stena Impero, the downing of a US spy drone, and attacks and counter-attacks on oil tankers.
The body of water connects consumers in Europe, Asia and America to the heart of the Middle Eastern countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia.
As tensions escalate between the US and UK on one side, and Iran on the other, memories of the strait’s turbulent past have returned to the fore.
Three decades ago, the Strait of Hormuz witnessed one of the world’s worst aviation disasters.
Iran Air Flight 655 was shot down over the Persian Gulf by a US naval vessel with the loss of 290 people, including 66 children.
The incident has been largely forgotten and is rarely mentioned by US media outlets.
During the 80s, the waterway became the focal point of the war between Iraq and Iran. Baghdad was trying to become a major power in the Gulf when in 1984 the two warring sides began disrupting each other’s oil exports.
Dubbed the ‘Tanker War’, Iraq aimed to strangle Iran’s economy, threatening to shut off what Iran called its jugular vein.
The US, which adopted for the ‘enemy of my enemy’ approach threw its weight behind Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein against their common enemy in Tehran.
With US intervention, Tehran was under tremendous pressure to make peace with Iraq. But in 1988, something tragic happened that strained the already complex relations between the US and Iran.
In a show of support towards Iraq and its Gulf allies, and to protect its viral trade routes, the US deployed a missile carrier, USS Vincennes, to the Persian Gulf.
As the eight-year war was winding down, in July 1988 the missile carrier shot down Flight 655 while it was en route to Dubai and over Iranian territorial waters.
Two surface-to-air missiles were launched at the aircraft leaving no survivors.
Memories of the tragedy live strong among several generations of Iranians.
Once a year, the country's state media rebroadcasts the footage of the plane's wreckage and memorial ceremonies are held to remember the lives lost.
“The US downing of the Iranian passenger plane still resonates with Iranians. The current tensions in the Persian Gulf certainly invoke memories of the tense days of the war and the country’s defenselessness against powerful enemies as well as the population’s resilience,” Reza H. Akbari, Programme Manager at the Institute for War & Peace, UK, told TRT World.
The US claimed that its Naval officers mistook the Airbus A300 for an Iranian F-14 fighter jet.
They said repeated warnings were sent to the jetliner, which failed to respond, and thinking of it as a hostile aircraft, the crew acted in self-defence and shot it down.
Tehran considers the tragedy an intentional and hostile act but then US President Ronald Reagan dubbed it an “understandable accident”.
“To this day, significant portions of the country's authorities do not believe the event was an accident, but a deliberate message sent to Iran over its decision to plant underwater mines in the Persian Gulf amid the Tanker War phase of the Iran-Iraq War,” Akbari said.
A month later, in August 1988, while addressing a campaign rally, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush said: "I will never apologise for the United States—I don't care what the facts are, I'm not an apologise-for-America kind of guy."
Later, on August 19, the Pentagon released the 53-page Fogarty report concluding that USS Vincennes commanding officer Navy Captain Will Rogers III "acted in a prudent manner" and that they were threatened by the aircraft.
Rogers was later awarded the Legion of Merit award for his "meritorious service" and cleared of any wrongdoing, further angering Iran. Rogers retired honourably in 1991.
Iran was not ready to give up. In 1989, it filed a lawsuit against the US in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague. The ICJ ordered the US to compensate the families of the Iranian victims. But the case dragged on and in 1996 Iran and the US entered into an agreement.
The case against the US was dropped. Washington “expressed deep regret” and agreed to pay $61.8 million to the victims’ families but never apologised formally for the downing of the plane.
About 18.5 million barrels of oil pass through the Strait of Hormuz each day - almost a fifth of the world’s total oil exports.
The Trump administration has been exerting a maximum pressure policy against Iran in order to weaken and destabilise the country internally, but three decades later, experts believe, Iran is a different country.
“During those days, Iran's retaliatory power was certainly no match against the United States. The current conditions may be the same, but because of lessons learned during the war, Iranian officials have drawn a red line when it comes to the country’s defensive capabilities, independence, and territorial integrity.
“They have spent a significant amount of energy and resources to turn a potential conflict with the US or regional foes into a long, arduous, and costly war for the parties involved.” Akbari told TRT World.
On fears of a direct confrontation in the strait, Akbari said: “The US and Iranian administrations are not after an all-out confrontation, but the continuation of tit-for-tat clashes in the Strait of Hormuz is very likely. This is a dangerous path that may lead to a point of no return.”