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Iran Bristles Over Gulf 'Threats'

In this picture taken on April 7, 2015, and released by the semi-official Fars News Agency, Iranian warship Alborz, is seen in the Strait of Hormuz. Tehran has threatened to close the waterway to U.S. and allied vessels.

Iran has been stepping up naval activity in and around the Persian Gulf, and a senior official in Tehran has warned that Iran could try to close the Strait of Hormuz if the government feels it is under threat.

A Voice of America story on this issue on May 5 erroneously reported that a U.S. Defense Department spokesman had commented on the statements in Tehran.

The spokesman cited in the story Thursday (Colonel Steven Warren) made no such statement this week. The spokesman had issued a comment about U.S. naval procedures in the Gulf on May 5, 2015, and that year-old statement was mistakenly highlighted this week.

Here are some details about what Iran has been saying about the Strait of Hormuz recently:

The threat to close the Strait of Hormuz follows an announcement last week by Iran’s naval commander, Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, that his forces will be holding maneuvers in the Persian Gulf in the near future.

On May 4, the deputy head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, General Hossein Salami, told state television that Iran is prepared to close the strait to U.S. and allied commercial vessels if Iran feels it is threatened by the West.

Strait of Hormuz
Strait of Hormuz

The general says that if the United States and its regional allies want to go through the Strait of Hormuz and threaten Iran, it will not allow their ships to enter the area. Alluding to Iran’s brief detention of a 10-member U.S. Navy crew last January, he said the United States should learn from recent history.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said at a public gathering Sunday that “the Persian Gulf is Iran’s home.”

In the background of Iran's recent statements, a resolution passed by the U.S. Congress last week declared that Iran has “undermined the stability in the Gulf,” thereby increasing the danger of an inadvertent conflict.

Analyst Mehrdad Khonsari, a former Iranian diplomat, notes that Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz are not new. He contends they are mostly rhetorical exercises, and that Iran actually would be unable to blockade the Strait of Hormuz effectively.

“What they are trying to say is that they are active and independent and powerful and can confront anybody, but the fact is that if you scratch the surface, the reality is that the Iranian navy is incapable of blocking the Strait of Hormuz,” he said.

Khonsari says Iran often grandiose statements such as those heard during the past week as a prelude to military maneuvers, and that they are mostly intended for internal consumption.

Some Arab analysts suggest Tehran is trying to project an image of power to its citizens at a time when it is seeing heavy casualty numbers in Syria.