Iran threatens freedom of navigation, boosts ties to Qatar
LONDON - With pressure mounting at home due to a deteriorating economy, coupled with the collapse of the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran has threatened freedom of maritime navigation in the region and boosted ties to Qatar.
Iranian officials claimed complete control of the Strait of Hormuz, through which one-third of all oil total shipments pass each day.
The new naval commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Alireza Tangsiri, said during his induction ceremony August 26 that Iran was in full control of the Arabian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz and that the US Navy’s presence in the region was illegal.
“There is no need for the presence of aliens like the United States and countries whose home is not in here,” Tangsiri said, as reported by the Iranian Tasnim News Agency. Tangsiri also said the IRGC naval force monitors all military and non-military vessels passing through the Arabian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.
Tehran has threatened many times to block the Strait of Hormuz, most recently due to the US economic sanctions.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani on July 3 hinted that Tehran would disrupt oil shipments through Hormuz after efforts by the Trump administration to ban importing Iranian oil.
Many Gulf Cooperation Council members, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, are dependent on the Strait of Hormuz crude oil shipments. Ibrahim al-Muhanna, an adviser to the Saudi Energy Ministry, said at an oil conference in Norway that if Iran obstructed passage through the Strait of Hormuz, it would likely face the wrath of the UN Security Council in the form of military action.
Muhanna stressed that Iran was not capable of completely blocking the Strait of Hormuz, due to the global importance of that route.
“The amount of oil going through the Strait of Hormuz is so large. There’s more than 18 million barrels a day, about two-thirds of world maritime oil trade. Meaning, cutting oil from there will lead to an acute oil shortage and prices will skyrocket,” Muhanna said.
“Is Iran able or willing to close completely, or even partially, the Strait of Hormuz or Bab el Mandeb, or both? The answer is ‘no,’ and a really big ‘no’.”
Threats by the IRGC generated a strong rebuke from the US State Department.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran does not control the Strait of Hormuz.” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote on his official Twitter account. “The strait is an international waterway. The United States will continue to work with our partners to ensure freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce in international waterways.”
Saudi Arabia suspended oil shipments in July through Bab el Mandeb between Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula and Djibouti and Eritrea in the Horn of Africa after the Iranian proxy Houthi militia attacked two Saudi oil tankers. Oil shipments resumed after a 10-day halt.
Rohani, reeling from his recent censure in parliament over his handling of the economy and the nuclear deal, also called for strengthening relations with the Arab Gulf state of Qatar.
In June 2017, four Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia, severed ties with Qatar over its links to radical Islamic groups and Doha’s support for Iran, which is viewed by many as a destabilising force in the Arabian Peninsula.
In a telephone conversation, Rohani thanked Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani for continuing to support the nuclear deal and said: “The Islamic Republic of Iran has always been willing to develop and deepen relations with Qatar as a friendly country in a critical region.”
Rohani touted Iran’s capabilities in helping Qatar finish construction of the facilities intended for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, an endeavour that has cost the lives of more than 1,200 people, some estimates claim.
“Iranian companies are completely ready to export their technical and engineering services to Qatar, especially for carrying out projects related to the 2022 World Cup,” Rohani said, his official website reported.
Sheikh Tamim expressed his willingness to boost ties with Tehran in all possible fields.