Iran Warns No Oil Will Pass Through World's Most Important Route if U.S. Sanctions Work

Iran's most senior general has threatened to shut down the world's busiest oil chokepoint if the U.S. manages to completely cut his country's oil and gas trade.

Major General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, the head of the Iranian military's chief of staff, told naval commanders of the country's elite Revolutionary Guards force Thursday that the entire third of the world's oil that passes through the Persian Gulf's Strait of Hormuz would be stopped in the event that President Donald Trump's policies succeeded in reducing Iran's oil exports to zero, according to the semi-official Mehr News Agency. Trump has abandoned a historic nuclear deal with Iran and has reimposed unilateral sanctions intended to strangle the Shiite Muslim revolutionary's economy.

Defense Secretary James Mattis warned Tuesday that "Iran has been put on notice" due to its regional activities and threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, but Bagheri claimed that the "U.S. army and other foreign forces in the Middle East region are well aware of this issue that if they make the slightest mistake in the region, they will pay a heavy price," according to the agency.

He further warned that the "movements of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf are monitored closely and if any move is made by the U.S. forces, contrary to the international law, their act will be prevented harshly."

Iranian soldiers aim during the "Velayat-90" navy exercises in the Sea of Oman near the Iranian port of Bandar Jask, in southern Iran, December 30, 2011. Iran has previously threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz in the event that its oil trade was threatened, an event that would likely initiate a military conflict with the U.S. and its allies. ALI MOHAMMADI/AFP/Getty Images

In May, Trump officially abandoned the multilateral nuclear accord, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), struck between former President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani—along with China, France, Germany, Russia and the U.K. While the deal's remaining parties still support its framework and the International Atomic Energy Agency has shown Tehran to be restricting its nuclear activities as agreed, the Trump administration argued that it did not go far enough to prevent the Islamic Republic from developing ballistic missiles and supporting militant and political movements across the Middle East.

The U.S. and Iran have both sent forces and backed regional movements battling the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria, but support rival factions in the latter's seven-year civil war. Israel and Saudi Arabia, the U.S.'s leading allies in the region, have also opposed Tehran's growing regional influence and were among the few international supporters of Trump's decision to leave the Iran deal.

The first round of U.S. sanctions took effect earlier this month, and the next batch that specifically targets Iran's energy exports was set for early November. Iran has some of the world's largest natural gas reserves, and U.S. restrictions have already caused French energy giant Total to abandon its majority share of the multi-billion dollar South Pars gas project, a deal that may now go to China.

China pledged to continue buying Iranian oil and has joined Russia in vowing to defy U.S. sanctions. European allies France, Germany and the U.K. have also denounced Trump's unilateral moves and have scrambled to save the nuclear deal.

The Revolutionary Guards have pushed Rouhani to adopt a harder line in dealing with the U.S. and have promised to comply with any directive to close off the Strait of Hormuz. Experts have said that such a move would lead to a temporary spike in oil prices, but was extremely unlikely given the military conflict that would ensure and the wide range of countries that rely on the crucial shipping route. Unlike previous times in which Iran threatened to shut down the waterway, Tehran is now in the rare position of having more global support on the issue of sanctions than its U.S. rival.

A map published July 30 shows the world's main oil transit chokepoints and major oil movement routes. While Iran's threat to close the Strait of Hormuz has prompted some international anxiety, many countries have blamed the U.S. for abandoning the nuclear deal in the first place. U.S. Energy Information Administration/International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation/Reuters

The issue has also exposed growing European frustration with U.S. dominance over the global financial system. Last week, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas went as far as to suggest "setting up payment channels independent of the U.S.A., creating a European Monetary Fund and building an independent Swift system" in order to "strengthen European autonomy."

As Europe searches for incentives to keep Iran in the deal, which Maas said "is better than the high-explosive crisis that otherwise threatens the Middle East," Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said: "It is fine to establish ties, continue negotiations with Europe; however, meanwhile you should stop having hopes in them on the issues like JCPOA or economic matters. You should strictly watch over the process of dealing with the matters, approaching their promises with wariness," according to his official website.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also warned that his country could exit. In a tweet posted Thursday, the diplomat warned: "If preserving JCPOA is the goal, then there is no escape from mustering the courage to comply with [a] commitment to normalize Iran's economic relations instead of making extraneous demands. Being the party to still honor the deal in deeds & not just words is not Iran's only option."