U.S. officials have warned fuel tankers and ships in Middle Eastern waterways about a possible Iranian attack against U.S. maritime interests in the region.
The warning comes days after the U.S. killing of Iran's Qods Force Commander General Qassem Soleimani in the early hours of January 3. Soleimani's death sparked new threats of violence, and has raised the prospect of a wider and unpredictable conflict in the Middle East and escalated tensions between Iran and the U.S.
Oil tankers were targeted last year in mine attacks the U.S. blamed on Iran. The U.S. Maritime Administration put out the warning for oil tankers on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, reports from the region indicate the U.S. military is preparing for a possible retaliatory measure by Iran in view of heightened military readiness in Iran's armed forces.
Reports on Monday said Iran was moving around missile launchers, but officials portrayed the move as a routine exercise.
The state of alert in the Persian Gulf region started only one day after the killing of Soleimani as the UK announced its naval force will be escorting all ships sailing under British flag.
An AP report said on Tuesday, "While officials say American intelligence isn’t clear on whether Iran's latest military moves are designed to bolster Tehran’s defenses or prepare for an offensive strike, the U.S. is continuing to reinforce its own positions in the region, including repositioning some forces. One official said the U.S. anticipated a 'major' attack of some type within the next day or two."
Other reports said the U.S. has moved several B-52 bombers to the Diego Garcia Island in the Indian Ocean.
The moves by U.S. military come amid conflicting statements by Iranian military commanders about the way Iran is going to respond to Soleimani’s killing.
President Donald Trump ordered the strike against Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Qods (Quds) Force during a visit to Baghdad, after the death of an American contractor in Iraq.
While some Iranian commanders have talked about "a direct answer" to America, many analysts believe that Iran will hit the U.S. where no one would expect.
In one of the latest developments, U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien has said the his country “will not tolerate" the latest threats by Iran.
O'Brien told Fox News on Tuesday that Iranian threats to Americans, U.S. shipping interests and more “have been around for 40 years" since the Iranian revolution in 1979. However, he added the U.S. is watching the situation carefully.
He said that the drone attack on Soleimani and his entourage was based on "strong intelligence," adding that the U.S. has asserted that Soleimani was plotting to kill American diplomats and soldiers "in significant numbers."
An AP report said on Tuesday "U.S. officials are also aware that Iran could try to strike a high-level American leader in a 'tit-for-tat' move, potentially a military commander.
One official said some Iranian ships have spread out, and while the intent isn’t immediately clear, they could move rapidly to attack, the report said.
In another development marking heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington, the U.S. said it would not issue a visa to Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif to attend a U.N. meeting this week. The U.S contends there was not enough time to process the visa request.
Zarif told Iran's state TV that U.S. officials were afraid while in New York, he might disclose President Trump's illegal act in ordering what he called "the assassination" of Soleimani, adding that he can do the same from Tehran.