If U.S. sanctions stop Iran’s oil exports, the Islamic Republic’s armed forces will block the Strait of Hormuz, says Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy Commander Rear Admiral Ali Reza Tangsiri.
Speaking to Iran’s state-run Arabic TV channel Al-Alam February 25, Tangsiri said, "As long as Iran is able to export its oil through the Strait of Hormuz, and there is no obstacle restricting the departure and arrival of our ships, the waterway will remain open."
The Strait of Hormuz, which connects the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, is the only waterway linking the Persian Gulf to the open sea. With 20 percent of the world’s petroleum passing through the strait, it is key to the global oil supply chain. The strait has been the site of repeated standoffs between Iran and the United States.
Tangsiri cautioned, however, that if Iran’s oil sales or the movement of its oil-carrying ships is in any way restricted, the strait will be closed.
Earlier, the Secretary of the Islamic Republic's Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) and former Defense Minister (1997 – 2005) Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani had said, “There are multiple ways to ensure the blockage of the strait, but we hope we won’t have to use them.”
New sanctions reimposed on Iran by the U.S. after it withdrew from the nuclear deal last May aim to bring Iran’s oil sales to zero, but Washington has granted temporary waivers to eight major buyers of the Iranian crude: China, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey.
It is not clear at this point if the U.S. will renew the exmptions. U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook has insisted that Washington has no plan at this time to extend waivers to importers of Iranian oil.
"Iran's oil customers should not expect new waivers to U.S. sanctions,” the top State Department official reiterated. The current exemptions are until May.
Brian Hook also said, "The November waivers were designed to prevent a spike in oil prices, and it appears that there will be enough oil supply to satisfy demand this year."
Responding to Iran’s threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, U.S. Operational Commander in the Persian Gulf Admiral John Richardson has said in the past that the United States is determined to keep the Strait of Hormuz open to international navigation even if it has to use force.
Before resigning from his post February 25, Iran’s former Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif maintained that even if all Iranian oil buyers cancel their deals with Tehran, Iran has "other means" to insure its oil sales. Analysts say threatening to block the Strait of Hormuz is the ace Tehran believes it has up its sleeve to play if U.S. sanctions threaten to cripple its oil sales.
In comments in January, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also said there are several ways Iran can ensure its oil sales despite U.S. sanctions.
Since the re-imposition of the second batch of U.S. sanctions on Iran last November, the IRGC has performed several drills in the Persian Gulf in tandem with Iran's regular army. Referring to the maneuvers, Tangsiri said that Iran feels threatened by the presence of foreign naval forces in the Persian Gulf.
"These maneuvers only show a little bit of Iran's genuine military capability, and they [Iran’s enemies] will see Iran's real power when hit by a mighty strike,” he said.
Tensions came to a head December 21 when a naval drill codenamed "Great Prophet XII" kicked off by the IRGC forces at the same time that U.S. aircraft carrier USS John Stennis sailed into the Persian Gulf. IRGC forces fired several rockets and flew a drone near the carrier. The head of the Iranian Defense Ministry’s Marine Industries Organization Rear Admiral Amir Rastegari insisted the rockets and drone were not aimed at the U.S. carrier.
Despite the intensifying war of words between Iran and the U.S., Islamic Republic’s senior officials, including its Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have insisted there is no possibility of an actual war in the region.
Nevertheless, in a speech last September Khamenei stressed the need for further empowerment of the Iranian armed forces in order to “scare the enemy.”
On February 22, Iranian Naval forces began a massive three-day drill in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman codenamed "Velayat 97.” The drill was held in an area of two million square kilometers, reaching to northern parts of the Indian Ocean