Senior U.S. officials have dismissed Iran’s latest assertion of authority over the Persian Gulf, saying Washington will keep the waters open, including major oil export routes through the Strait of Hormuz.
One such dismissal came Tuesday from U.S. special representative for Iran Brian Hook at a Washington conference hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). "The Iranians for many years have made threats about closing the Strait of Hormuz," he said. "The U.S. and its partners will ensure that the Strait of Hormuz is open to commercial navigation and that it maintains its current and future status as an international waterway." One third of all oil traded by sea passes through the strait.
A day earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a similar rejection of recent Iranian statements about the Persian Gulf, posting a tweet that said Iran "does not control" the Strait of Hormuz.
Iran’s latest declaration regarding its Persian Gulf role was published in a Tuesday report by Iranian state-controlled news site Tasnim. The report quoted the new commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) navy Ali Reza Tangsiri as saying: "The Persian Gulf is our home, so we can ensure the security of the Persian Gulf, and there is no need for the presence of aliens like the U.S. and the countries whose home is not here." Tangsiri was speaking on Monday at a ceremony marking his inauguration in the northeastern city of Mashhad.
Iran’s Young Journalists Club news outlet published another Tangsiri quote from the ceremony, at which he said: "The IRGC naval force and the navy have the readiness to defend the blue waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman respectively. Such a readiness … includes full information on the enemy and monitoring the enemy's physical presence."
Speaking to VOA Persian on the sidelines of Tuesday’s conference, FDD analyst Behnam Ben Taleblu described Iran’s latest comments about the Persian Gulf as “bombastic rhetoric” rather than an indication of imminent Iranian action against the naval forces of the U.S. and its allies.
"Traditionally, the IRGC navy has been prone to taking risks in the Persian Gulf," Taleblu said, referring to Iranian gunboats that occasionally harassed U.S. warships in the area in previous years. But he noted that the U.S. Navy has recorded no instances of such harassments in 2018 and said that suggests the IRGC navy has become risk averse.
Last month, U.S. President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis issued stark warnings to Iran not to threaten the United States.
Trump said in a tweet that Iran would suffer consequences "the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered" if it threatened the U.S. again – an apparent response to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani saying a U.S. war with Iran would be "the mother of all wars."
Mattis said an Iranian closure of the Strait of Hormuz would amount to an attack on international shipping and provoke "an international response to reopen the shipping lanes with whatever it took."
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Persian Service.