United States officials told media Wednesday that the naval fleet of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is planning to place 100 gunboats in the Persian Gulf within the next 48 hours to practice “swarm” tactics, an exercise that is usually reserved for the fall.
The “swarm” exercise could reportedly result in the shutdown of the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial Gulf passage for shipments of commodities and also used for roughly ten percent of the world’s oil transfers annually.
The swam exercise has likely been moved up due to increased tensions and threats between United States President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
“We are aware of the increase in Iranian naval operations within the Arabian [Persian] Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman,” Navy Capt. Bill Urban, a U.S. Central Command spokesman, told Reuters. “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.”
Last month, Iran threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz over Washington threatening to sanction any country that fails to stop importing oil from the Islamic Republic by November 4.
“We will make the enemy understand that either everyone can use the Strait of Hormuz or no one,” Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the IRGC reportedly said. The Strait of Hormuz is 34 kilometers (21 miles) at its most narrow point.
Last week, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned Iran that shutting down the Strait of Hormuz would be considered an attack on international shipping.
“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 reportedly added, “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.”
In response to Rouhani’s threat that “War with Iran is the mother of all wars,” Trump tweeted a warning:
To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 23, 2018
Despite the threats from Iran and strong response from the United States, Trump has still offered to hold talks with Rouhani and “make a real deal” with “no preconditions.” Iran rejected Trump’s first offer for a meeting.
On Tuesday, Iran’s IRGC chief, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, declared, “Iranians never allow their authorities to negotiate with the Great Satan,” referring to the United States.
Trump’s second offer to Rouhani for a meeting has yet to be answered. On Wednesday, Rouhani’s adviser Hesamodin Ashna tweeted, “‘No preconditions’ means ‘No enforcement of illegal sanctions.’ Sanctions and dialogue are contradictory.”
Iran is bracing for the reimposition of economic sanctions on August 7.
Hundreds of Iranians took to the streets of Isfahan, Karaj, Shiraz, and Ahvaz on Tuesday to protest against high inflation caused in part by the record-low drop in Iran’s currency, the rial, which dipped past 100,000 rials per one U.S. dollar on Sunday.