Iran’s defense minister warned Wednesday that the Islamic Republic would give a “crushing response” if Israel followed through on a threat by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stymie Iranian oil shipments.
Defense minister Amir Hatami was responding to a speech last week in which Netanyahu warned that Israel’s navy might intervene if Iran was illegally exporting petroleum and bypassing American economic sanctions, the IRNA news agency reported
“If they have such an intention, this issue will be regarded as international piracy,” Hatami said.
In his speech, Netanyahu accused Iran of secretly smuggling oil to get past economic sanctions, and called on the international community to take action against the activity.
“Iran is trying to bypass the sanctions on it through the covert smuggling of petroleum via the sea,” he said. “As these attempts expand, the (Israeli) navy will have a more important role in efforts to block these Iranian actions.
“I call on the international community to halt, by any means, Iran’s attempts to bypass the sanctions via the sea,” Netanyahu said.
Hatami, in his response, said, “The Islamic Republic of Iran enjoys the required capability to respond to this issue and if happens, it will give a crushing response.”
He added that the Iranian military would “secure the security of shipping lines and international shipping lanes for ourselves and all those who are in our area of responsibility,”
Last May the United States pulled out of a landmark 2015 nuclear deal, reimposing stiff economic sanctions that had been lifted from Iran in return for the dismantling of the weapons-capable elements of its nuclear development program. US President Donald Trump has said the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, doesn’t go far enough in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and does not restrict the Iranian missile development program.
Highly dependent on petroleum exports, the Iranian economy is prospected to contract by 3.6 percent in 2019 with the reimposition of the US sanctions, while its daily oil export dropped from 2.7 million barrels to 1.7-1.9 million barrels by September 2018.
While the US Navy maintains a large presence in the area, Israel does not reveal the location of its vessels.
The US Navy’s 5th Fleet is based in nearby Bahrain and over the years has had aircraft carrier groups patrol the seas off of Iran in a show of force. In December, the US carrier USS John C. Stennis entered the Persian Gulf, ending a long absence of American carriers in the volatile region.
Last month Iranian state media released an animated video showing one of the country’s Ghadir-class submarines sinking an American aircraft carrier.
In past years, Iranian naval forces have harassed US ships in the area, and Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow entrance to the Persian Gulf that is crucial to the international oil trade.