Iran Warns Israel of Firm Response if Oil Shipments Targeted

Defense Minister Amir Hatami says military has capabilities to protect shipping after Netanyahu said navy could act against oil 'smuggling'

An Iranian-flagged support vessel maneuvers near a crude oil tanker sailing through the Persian Gulf transporting crude oil to export markets from Bandar Abbas, Iran. March 23, 2018

Iran will respond firmly to any Israeli naval action against its oil shipments, Iran's defense minister said on Wednesday, in comments that came a week after Israel's prime minister said its navy could act against Iranian oil "smuggling" to evade U.S. sanctions.

U.S. President Donald Trump last year quit a nuclear deal with Iran and re-imposed some sanctions, aiming to cut Tehran´s oil exports to zero. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told naval officers last week that Iran was still resorting to clandestine measures to ship fuel.

Iran's Defense Minister Amir Hatami was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA that Tehran had the military capabilities to confront any Israeli intervention, and said the international community would also not accept such action.

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Hatami said such confrontation would be considered as "piracy" and warned that "if it happens, we will firmly respond."

FILE PHOTO: Iran's Defense Minister Amir Hatami speaks during the unveiling ceremony at an exhibition in Tehran, Iran, February 2, 2019.

"The Iranian armed forces have certainly the capabilities to protect the country's shipping lines in the best way against any possible threat," Hatami said.

According to maritime experts, Iran has used a variety of measures to evade sanctions, including changing the names of ships or flag registries, switching off location transponders on ships and conducting ship-to-ship transfers offshore and away from large trade hubs.

Iran´s navy has extended its reach in recent years, dispatching vessels to the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. They intervened on Friday to repel pirates who attacked an Iranian oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden.

The Israeli navy, whose largest vessels are missile corvettes and a small submarine fleet, is mostly active in the Mediterranean and Red seas.

Iran has one of the world´s biggest tanker fleets in the world.

In November, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook called Iranian vessels a "floating liability", saying the U.S. sanctions would bar them from international insurance markets, making them a risk for ports and canals which allow them access.

Iranian officials have threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route in the Gulf, if the United States attempts to stop the Islamic Republic´s oil exports.