Iran could target U.S. commercial ships including oil tankers, the U.S. Maritime Administration said on Friday, as a senior Iranian cleric said a U.S. Navy fleet could be ‘destroyed with one missile.’
In the latest tense exchange between Tehran and Washington, Iran’s hardline Revolutionary Guards separately said Iran would not negotiate with the United States, a stance that seemed partly aimed at discouraging Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his moderate allies from taking up a U.S. offer of talks. Donald Trump on Thursday urged Iran’s leaders talk with him about giving up their nuclear program and said he could not rule out a military confrontation. Trump made the offer as he increased economic and military pressure on Iran, moving to cut off all Iranian oil exports this month while beefing up the U.S. Navy and Air Force presence in the Gulf. Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan approved a new deployment of Patriot missiles to the Middle East, a U.S. official told Reuters on Friday.
The U.S. aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, deployed as a warning to Iran, passed through Egypt’s Suez Canal on Thursday and American B-52 bombers have also arrived at a U.S. base in Qatar, U.S. Central Command said.
Iran has dismissed both moves – which the United States said it took after U.S. intelligence signaled possible preparations by Tehran to attack U.S. forces or interests – as ‘psychological warfare’ designed to obviously intimidate it. In an advisory posted on Thursday, the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) said that since early May there had been an increased possibility of Iran or its regional proxies taking action against U.S. and partner interests.
These included, MARAD said, oil production infrastructure, after Tehran threatened to close the vital Strait of Hormuz chokepoint through which about a fifth of oil consumed globally passes.
‘Iran or its proxies could respond by targeting commercial vessels, including oil tankers, or U.S. military vessels in the Red Sea, Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, or the Persian Gulf,’ MARAD said.
‘Reporting indicates heightened Iranian readiness to conduct offensive operations against U.S. forces and interests.’
Millions of barrels of oil pass daily through the various bottlenecks from Middle East oil producers to global markets.