Here we go again: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has once more threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, which is vital to up to one-third of all global oil shipping as it's a key transit choke point in the Persian Gulf.
On Tuesday Iranian state broadcasts carried his words, saying “if someday, the United States decides to block Iran’s oil (exports), no oil will be exported from the Persian Gulf.” He further vowed that the United States will not be able to prevent Iran from exporting its crude — something the White House has repeatedly pledged to take down to zero exports through international allies and economic blockade through sanctions.
The threat comes less than 24 hours after US officials told the Wall Street Journal that an aircraft carrier group led by the USS John C. Stennis is set to arrive in the Persian Gulf "within days" — which will bring a close what's been described as the longest period in two decades that a carrier group was absent from the region. Specifically the unnamed officials identified the purpose as to "exhibit a show of force against Iran".
The carrier deployment, though previously scheduled, was announced after the US condemned Iran's test firing a medium-range nuclear capable ballistic missile on Sunday.
“The United States should know that we are selling oil and we will sell our oil and it cannot block Iran’s oil export,” he said on Tuesday addressing the people of Shahroud in Semnan province broadcast live on state TV.
The United States and the Israeli regime cannot stand the idea of a powerful and dignified Iran, and the Iranian nation will not bow to them, Rouhani highlighted, adding, “the United States failed in launching a coup in our country. They were after separating Khuzestan province, imposing sanctions against the country, and undermining Iran’s power, but they failed. It should be studied why the US is angry with Iran and Iranians.” —MEHR News Agency
Though it's not the first time such a threat was made, tensions have never been higher as less than a day prior Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels to discuss “ways to halt together Iranian aggression in the region”. Hours after the meeting the Israeli Defense Forces launched 'Operation Northern Shield' along the Lebanese border to “expose and thwart” what officials have dubbed "terror tunnels" stretching from Lebanon into northern Israel
According to the AP, President Rouhani's threat was welcomed by hardline clerics and military officials, including Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force.
In early November, for example, a prominent hardline cleric told a Friday prayer gathering in Mashhad, considered Iran's spiritual capital, that Iran has the power to "instantly" create conditions for $400 a barrel oil prices if it decides to act in the Persian Gulf.
Shia cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda grabbed headlines at the time by declaring, "If Iran decides, a single drop of this region's oil will not be exported and in 90 minutes all Persian Gulf countries will be destroyed."
And during the prior summer, after similar threats were issued from Tehran the spokesman for the US military's Central Command, Captain Bill Urban, told the Associated Press that US sailors and its regional allies "stand ready to ensure the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce wherever international law allows".
It appears the presence of the USS John C. Stennis is aimed at preventing such a possibility of Iran blocking the Strait of Hormuz from happening. Officials also said the carrier group will support the US war in Afghanistan as well as operations against remnant ISIS pockets in Iraq and Syria. But despite current tensions with Iran, Pentagon officials have underscored that the carrier mission was previously scheduled, while also touting its Iranian deterrent mission.
In recent comments over Iran's developing ballistic missile program, the State Department's special representative on Iran, Brian Hook, said the "military option" is on the table.
“We have been very clear with the Iranian regime that we will not hesitate to use military force when our interests are threatened. I think they understand that. I think they understand that very clearly,” Hook said late last week.
“I think right now, while we have the military option on the table, our preference is to use all of the tools that are at our disposal diplomatically,” he added.