US Says It's Ready to Protect Shipping in Gulf After Iran Threat

The Iranian warship Alborz steams out of Iranian waters and heads into the Strait of Hormuz, April 2015. (AP Photo/Fars News Agency, Mahdi Marizad)
The Iranian warship Alborz steams out of Iranian waters and heads into the Strait of Hormuz, April 2015. (AP Photo/Fars News Agency, Mahdi Marizad)

Iran's bluster about blocking the Strait of Hormuz could remain just that, with the United States saying it is committed to ensuring the safety of the region.

The U.S. Central Command said it is fully prepared to keep regional commerce flowing through the Arabian Gulf, after a senior Iranian military official said his country's navy would halt all Middle East exports if Iran is not allowed to ship its oil through the Strait.

"There will be no security for others, either, and no other crude will be exported from this region," Iranian Armed Forces Chief of Staff Mohammad Bagheri said in reports carried by Iranian state media. This was the second such threat in two months after President Hassan Rouhani first made it in July.

USS Nimitz transits the Strait of Hormuz. Nimitz is deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

Come November, Iran faces a second round of U.S. sanctions which could cripple its ability to sell oil. This could bring the economy to its knees and Bagheri's threat reflected the dire situation in his country. He went on to say that U.S. and other allied forces in the region "know full well that the smallest mistake in the region will bear a heavy cost for them."

Major Josh T. Jacques of the U.S. Central Command said the U.S. partners with "many nations to provide and promote security and stability in the region. Together, we stand ready to ensure the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce wherever international law allows."

That said, there is no increased Iranian naval activity in the region and when asked if the Iranian navy had recently threatened U.S. naval forces in the Arabian Gulf, Jacques said the "last unsafe and unprofessional interaction" was over a year ago.

U.S. President Donald Trump had said in May that his objective is to bring Iran's oil revenue to zero. The Strait of Hormuz is a strategic strip at the mouth of the Arabian Gulf through which 30 per cent of global oil flows.

What must be understood here is Iran cannot block the strait under international maritime law because Hormuz is considered an "international strait", as it is the lone gateway to the Sea of Oman and then on to the Indian Ocean. This is made clear in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The law states that all ships have to "right to passage" and countries along the strait should not obstruct movement. But the Iranian parliament has not approved the 1982 U.N. law while the Iranian government signed it and, therefore, cannot violate the convention.

However, when Tehran came on board, it said it would recognize the "right of transit passage" only for ships from countries who were signatories to the convention -- which the U.S. is not.

The United States established a naval presence in the region in the 1980s, during the war between Iran and Iraq, and has protected shipping in the region since then. Tehran considers the U.S. an illegal force since it is not a signatory to the U.N. convention. Hence, this "right of transit passage" does not apply to U.S. ships, it says.

Washington interprets this differently and says the "right" is now part of the "common law" of international navigation, which Tehran should abide by.

The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain and its area of operations covers nearly 2.5 million square miles of water and includes the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean. The region includes three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab Al Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen.

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This article is written by Allan Jacob from Khaleej Times and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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