Showdown on Hormuz worsening
TEHRAN / WASHINGTON
An image grab taken from Iranian state English news television channel Press TV allegedly shows a US aircraft carrier which Iran claims went ‘inside the manoeuvre zone.’ AFP photoA showdown between Iran and the United States over Tehran’s threats to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz to oil tankers worsened yesterday as warships from each side backed up an increasingly hostile exchange of words.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards rejected a warning from the U.S. military – which has vowed not to “tolerate” such a closure – saying they would act decisively “to protect [their] vital interests.”
The tough language came as Iran’s Navy said a U.S. aircraft carrier entered a zone where Tehran’s ships and aircraft were engaged in 10 days of war games that are designed to show the Islamic republic’s military might.
The area was in waters to the east of the Strait of Hormuz, a choke point at the entrance to the Gulf through which more than a third of the world’s tanker-borne oil passes. Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi warned Dec. 27 that “not a drop of oil will pass through the Strait of Hormuz” if the West followed through with planned additional sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.
A U.S. Defense Department spokesman replied Dec. 28 with a declaration that “interference with the transit of vessels through the Strait of Hormuz will not be tolerated.” But Brigadier General Hossein Salami, the deputy commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, told Fars news agency yesterday that “our response to threats is threats.”
“We have no doubt about our being able to carry out defensive strategies to protect our vital interests – we will act more decisively than ever,” Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying. “The Americans are not qualified to give us permission [to carry out military maneuvers].”
Iran’s Navy chief, Adm. Habibollah Sayari, said the U.S. aircraft carrier was monitored by Iranian forces as it passed from the Strait of Hormuz to the Gulf of Oman, according to Iranian state television. The network showed footage of an aircraft carrier being followed by an Iranian plane.
An Iranian Navy spokesman, Commodore Mahmoud Mousavi, told the official Press TV that the aircraft carrier went “inside the maneuver zone” where Iranian ships were conducting their exercises. The detection of the U.S. aircraft carrier demonstrated that Iran’s naval forces are precisely monitoring all moves by extra-regional powers in the region, he said.
The U.S. aircraft carrier was believed to be the U.S.S. John C. Stennis, one of the American Navy’s biggest warships.
U.S. officials said Dec. 28 the ship and its accompanying carrier strike group was moving through the Strait of Hormuz. The U.S. maintains a Navy presence in the Gulf in large part to ensure oil traffic there is unhindered.
Iran, which is already subject to several rounds of sanctions over its nuclear program, has repeatedly said it could target the Strait of Hormuz if attacked or if its economy were strangled.