Former Intelligence Minister Ali Falahian, Iran’s senior spokesman on sanctions, said Sunday, March 18, that if the US and Europe think they can ignore international law to promote their interests, they should know that Iran will respond in kind everywhere it can. “I suggest that the West take seriously our threat to close the Strait of Hormuz,” he said in Tehran’s first response to the SWIFT decision to sever ties with Iranian banks to enforce European sanctions on its nuclear program.
A large fleet of 4 US and French nuclear aircraft carriers and a dozen or more minesweepers and mine-hunting helicopters have piled up on both sides of the Strait of Hormuz, through which 17 percent of the world’s daily oil supply passes, and Israeli naval vessels have deployed in the Red Sea.
debkafile’s military and intelligence sources estimate Tehran may make good on its threats by trying to drop sea mines in the strategic strait and/or the approaches to the huge Saudi Ras Tanura oil export terminal. A small explosion by an unknown hand hit a major Saudi pipeline between Awamiya and Safwa on March 1. The damage was not great because the saboteurs used a small quantity of explosive but it appeared to be the work of professionals.
While Saudi officials denied the incident, photos of a large fire appeared on the Internet. Gulf oil sources suspect that it was a warning from Tehran of the hazards facing the world’s largest oil exporter.
The SWIFT cutoff of ties with Iranian banks has gone a long way toward isolating Iran from global commerce. It will affect Iranian oil sales to its biggest customers in the Far East, China and Japan, as well as India. The economic noose tightening around its neck is bound to produce a response from Iran, it is estimated in Washington and European capitals. The US-led European sanctions on Iranian oil world trade were boosted in recent weeks by the United Arab Emirates which stopped handling Iranian rials, further reducing its ability to trade and obtain hard currency.
After its foremost ally, Bashar Assad, proved his ability to survive – largely with abundant Iranian help – Tehran is unlikely to let this achievement be marred by a US and European economic stranglehold. The ordinary Iranian may care about his government’s international standing but he cares a lot more about the fast depreciating value of the money in his pocket and his financial assets.
Anticipating that Iran may kick back hard against the tough penalties building up against its nuclear program, three US aircraft carriers are standing by in the Persian Gulf – The USS Abraham Lincoln, the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Enterprise together with the French Charles de Gaulle and their strike groups.
Thursday, US Navy Chief Adm. Jonathan Greenert said he was doubling the American minesweeping fleet in the Persian Gulf by adding another four vessels as well as mine-hunting helicopters to bolster Persian Gulf security and keep the Strait of Hormuz open to international traffic.
France, Britain, Holland and Germany have also deployed minesweepers in these strategic Gulf waters.
Tuesday, March 13, two Israeli missile corvettes, the INS Lahav and INS Yafo, crossed the Suez Canal on their way to the Red Sea accompanied by the French Imidisi supply ship.
The vast naval buildup of powerful warships confirms that the United States, Europe and Israel are braced for harsh Iranian retaliation across more than one part of the Middle East for the crippling sanctions now taking hold.