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Iran builds up massive 100-boat fleet in Persian Gulf, threatening global oil route

Navy of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution commandos and missile boats in Great Prophet IX Maneuver in the general area of Strait of Hormuz, Persian Gulf. (sayyed shahab-o- din vajedi/Wikimedia Commons)
August 02, 2018

Iran is apparently ignoring warnings made by the United States against prohibiting trade traffic through the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, as a massive Iranian naval presence has recently been spotted in the area.

Approximately 100 boats belonging to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have been identified in the area, CNN reported Thursday. The IRGC is reportedly preparing to launch a major exercise, during which they could demonstrate their capability of blocking the Strait.

Iranian warships are positioning at the northern end of the Strait, which is one of the world’s most important waterways for oil transport. Approximately 18 million barrels of oil are transported through the Strait daily, which connects the Persian Gulf (also known as the Arabian Gulf) and the Arabian Sea.

Although the IRGC typically holds these naval exercises each year, Iran is holding the exercise earlier in the year than usual, and notably with a much larger fleet. Hundreds of ground forces are also expected to join the exercise.

Navy Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for Central Command, said: “We are aware of the increase in Iranian naval operations within the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman.”

“We are monitoring it closely, and will continue to work with our partners to ensure freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce in international waterways,” he added.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last week that Iran’s blockage of the Strait would be considered an “attack on international shipping,” USA Today reported.

“Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz,” Mattis said. “They’ve done that previously in years past.  They saw the international community put – dozens of nations of the international community put their naval forces in for exercises to clear the straits,” he said.

“Clearly, this would be an attack on international shipping, and – and it would have, obviously, an international response to reopen the shipping lanes with whatever that took, because of the world’s economy depends on that energy, those energy supplies flowing out of there,” Mattis added.

Despite the warning, Iran’s significant presence in the area may be an attempt to intimidate those who levy sanctions against Iran.

If Iran blocks the Strait and inhibits oil traffic, energy costs could see a sudden increase across the globe.

The activity comes amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran after the U.S. withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, and has proposed additional sanctions against Iran to deter their nuclear activities and their support of terrorism.

Increased sanctions from the U.S. are set to take effect Friday, and another round will take effect Nov. 4 to target Iran’s central bank and energy sector, Stars and Stripes reported.

Iran threatened to block the Strait if sanctions impede their crude oil exports. This threat was reinforced Tuesday when Rear Adm. Hossein Khanzadi, an Iranian navy commander, told Iranian reporters that the military is prepared and awaiting orders to close the Strait.

Although the U.S. Navy doesn’t maintain an active presence in the Persian Gulf, it could tap nearby warplanes and the Bahrain-based U.S. 5th Fleet if action is required.

Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey tweeted his prediction of a confrontation in the Strait: “DANGER of Iranian miscalculation in the Straits of Hormuz. Vital to global oil supply. Easily interdicted by Revolutionary Guard attack boats and mines. Powerful US Navy and USAF will absolutely break the Iranian blockade in 60 day bloody battle,” he wrote.

It wouldn’t be the first time the U.S. Navy retaliated against Iran in the Strait with deadly results. In 1988, the Navy attacked Iranian targets, sinking an Iranian ship, the Sahand, and its 45 crew members.