US Navy says will protect commerce as Iran threatens to block oil shipments through Strait of Hormuz

A gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields is seen alongside an Iranian flag in the Persian Gulf.
A gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields is seen alongside an Iranian flag in the Persian Gulf.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS) - The US Navy stands ready to ensure free navigation and the flow of commerce, the US military's Central Command said on Thursday (July 5), as Iran's Revolutionary Guards warned they would block oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz if necessary.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and some senior military commanders have threatened in recent days to disrupt oil shipments from the Gulf countries if Washington tries to cut Teheran's exports.

Praising Rouhani's "firm stance" against the United States, the head of the Revolutionary Guards said on Thursday their forces were ready to block the strait which links the Gulf to the open sea.

In May, US President Donald Trump pulled out of a multinational deal under which sanctions on Iran were lifted in return for curbs to its nuclear programme. Washington has since told countries they must stop buying Iranian oil from Nov 4 or face financial measures.

If Iran cannot sell its oil under US pressure, then no other regional country will be allowed to either, said Mohammad Ali Jafari, who commands the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran's most powerful military force.

"We are hopeful that this plan expressed by our president will be implemented if needed... We will make the enemy understand that either all can use the Strait of Hormuz or no one," Jafari was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency.

The Strait of Hormuz is the most important oil transit channel in the world with about one-fifth of global oil consumption passing through each day.

"The US and its partners provide, and promote security and stability in the region," Central Command spokesman Navy Captain Bill Urban said in an email to Reuters.

Asked what would be the US Naval Forces' reaction if Iran blocks the strait, he said: "Together, we stand ready to ensure the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce wherever international law allows."

The Guards' naval arm lacks a strong conventional fleet. However, it has many speed boats and portable anti-ship missile launchers, and can lay mines.

A senior US military leader said in 2012 the Guards have the ability to block the strait "for a period of time" but the United States would take action to reopen it in such an event.