US said weighing military action amid Iranian threats to Middle East waterways

Report says US looking into options to keep key oil routes open in wake of attack by Iran-backed rebels on Saudi tankers in Red Sea

A member of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards chants slogans after attacking a naval vessel during a military drill in the Strait of Hormuz in southern Iran, February 25, 2015. (Hamed Jafarnejad/AFP/Fars News)
A member of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards chants slogans after attacking a naval vessel during a military drill in the Strait of Hormuz in southern Iran, February 25, 2015. (Hamed Jafarnejad/AFP/Fars News)

The United States is reportedly weighing possible military action to keep open key oil shipping routes in the Middle East amid Iranian threats against the waterways.

However, a CNN report Friday citing Trump administration officials said that any military action would be taken by US regional allies such as Saudi Arabia, and not American troops.

The officials said that though the US maintains a naval presence in the Middle East, any military operation would need a long-term commitment from other countries.

The report came just days after Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen attacked a pair of Saudi oil tankers traveling through the Bab al-Mandab Strait leading to the Red Sea. The waterway is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.

Iranian leaders have also recently threatened to shutter the Strait of Hormuz, through which one-third of the world’s oil supply passes as it travels from the Persian Gulf.

In this file photo taken on February 8, 2017, a member of the pro-government forces raises his weapon in the port of the western Yemeni coastal town of Mokha as the Saudi-backed troops advance in a bid to try to drive the Shiite Houthi rebels away from the Red Sea coast. (AFP Photo/Saleh al-Obeidi)

Following the attack by the Houthis on the Saudi tankers, each with a capacity to haul 2 million barrels of oil, Saudi Arabia temporarily halted oil shipments through Bab al-Mandab.

State-run Aramco said the decision to suspend shipments was “in the interest of the safety of ships and their crews and to avoid the risk of oil spill.”

A Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen has repeatedly warned that Houthi rebels threaten vessels in the Red Sea — a key shipping route for world trade — through their control of the strategic Hodeida port.

Pro-government forces backed by a coalition including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have paused their offensive on Hodeida port in a bid they say is to give UN-led peace efforts a chance.

Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen in 2015 at the head of a military coalition backing the country’s government after Houthi rebels ousted it from the capital Sanaa the previous year.

Earlier this month, the US vowed to keep open the Strait of Hormuz after Iranian generals backed President Hassan Rouhani’s threat to jeopardize world oil supplies if Iranian oil exports are blocked under US sanctions.

Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani gives a speech in the city of Tabriz in the northwestern East-Azerbaijan province on April 25, 2018, (Atta Kenare/AFP)

“It would be meaningless that Iran cannot export its oil while others in the region can. Do this if you can and see the consequences,” Rouhani said at the time.

Since the US pulled out of the nuclear deal with Iran, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Washington has been pushing allies to cut oil imports from the Islamic Republic altogether by November.

The Trump administration has vowed to stick with its pressure campaign against Iran, affirming its strategy to change Tehran’s behavior by gutting its oil revenue and isolating the country globally.

Iran is OPEC’s second-largest crude exporter with more than 2 million barrels a day.

Earlier this week, US President Donald Trump issued an intense warning against Tehran, threatening that it could “suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever seen before.”

The response came after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani earlier Sunday issued his own warning to the US leader not to “play with the lion’s tail,” saying that conflict with Iran would be the “mother of all wars.”

However, Trump tempered the threat Tuesday, saying “we’re ready to make a real deal” with Iran.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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