Iran warns of closing strategic oil route
Tehran - Iran's navy chief warned Wednesday that his country can
easily close the strategic Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian
Gulf, the passageway through which a sixth of the world's oil flows.
It was the second such warning in two days. On Tuesday,
Vice President Mohamed Reza Rahimi threatened to close the strait,
cutting off oil exports, if the West imposes sanctions on Iran's oil
"Closing the Strait of Hormuz is very easy for Iranian
naval forces," Adm. Habibollah Sayyari told state-run Press TV. "Iran
has comprehensive control over the strategic waterway," the navy chief
The threats underline Iranian concern that the West is
about to impose new sanctions that could target Tehran's vital oil
industry and exports.
Western nations are growing increasingly impatient with
Iran over its nuclear program. The U.S. and its allies have accused
Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop nuclear
weapons. Iran has denied the charges, saying its program is geared
toward generating electricity and producing medical radioisotopes to
treat cancer patients.
The U.S. Congress has passed a bill banning dealings
with the Iran Central Bank, and President Barack Obama has said he will
sign it despite his misgivings. Critics warn it could impose hardships
on U.S. allies and drive up oil prices.
The bill could impose penalties on foreign firms that
do business with Iran's central bank. European and Asian nations import
Iranian oil and use its central bank for the transactions.
With concern growing over a possible drop-off in
Iranian oil supplies, a senior Saudi oil official said Gulf Arab nations
are ready to step in if necessary and offset any potential loss of
Iranian crude in the world markets.
Reflecting unease over the rising tensions, the U.S.
benchmark crude futures contract for February delivery was above $101
per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Its London-based Brent counterpart fell slightly, but still remained
above $109 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.
Iran is the world's fourth-largest oil producer, with
an output of about 4 million barrels of oil a day. It relies on oil
exports for about 80 percent of its public revenues.
Iran has adopted an aggressive military posture in
recent months in response to increasing threats from the U.S. and Israel
that they may take military action to stop Iran's nuclear program.
The navy is in the midst of a 10-day drill in
international waters near the strategic oil route. The exercises began
Saturday and involve submarines, missile drills, torpedoes and drones.
The war games cover a 1,250-mile (2,000-kilometer) stretch of sea off
the Strait of Hormuz, northern parts of the Indian Ocean and into the
Gulf of Aden near the entrance to the Red Sea as a show of strength and
could bring Iranian ships into proximity with U.S. Navy vessels in the
Iranian media are describing how Iran could move to
close the strait, saying the country would use a combination of
warships, submarines, speed boats, anti-ship cruise missiles, torpedoes,
surface-to-sea missiles and drones to stop ships from sailing through
the narrow waterway.
Iran's navy claims it has sonar-evading submarines
designed for shallow waters of the Persian Gulf, enabling it to hit
passing enemy vessels.
A closure of the strait could temporarily cut off some
oil supplies and force shippers to take longer, more expensive routes
that would drive oil prices higher. It also potentially opens the door
for a military confrontation that would further rattle global oil
Iran claimed a victory this month when it captured an
American surveillance drone almost intact. It went public with its
possession of the RQ-170 Sentinel to trumpet the downing as a feat of
Iran's military in a complicated technological and intelligence battle
with the U.S.
American officials have said that U.S. intelligence assessments indicate the drone malfunctioned.