Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami warned that any interference from Israel regarding Iranian oil smuggling would lead to war.
Hatami’s comments came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week that Israel’s navy would step up its activities to thwart Iranian oil smuggling. The Islamic Republic has been attempting to export its oil, which it is forbidden to sell under U.S. sanctions, by using a variety of methods to mask its point of origin.
Following Netanyahu’s remarks, Hatami said on Wednesday that “the Islamic Republic of Iran enjoys the required capability to respond” to any Israeli interference and would deal Israel “a crushing response” should the Jewish State block Iranian oil shipments.
Hatami added that the Iranian military would “secure the security of shipping lines and international shipping lanes for ourselves and all those who are in our area of responsibility” adding, “If they have such an intention, this issue will be regarded as international piracy.”
In 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the Iranian nuclear deal and announced a new round of sanctions, including measures designed to limit Iran from exporting petroleum. As Iranian oil exports constitute the backbone of its economy, the measure was designed to devastate the Islamic Republic and force it back to the negotiating table.
The effects have been immediate and harsh. Since the implementation of the sanctions, Iranian petroleum exports have fallen from 2.7 million barrels to 1.7-1.9 million barrels a day, and its economy is expected to contract by another 3.6 percent before 2020.
Last week, Netanyahu told Israeli navy cadets that Iran had reverted to smuggling oil to evade the sanctions and called on the international community to take action. Netanyahu added that Israel’s navy, which operates in the eastern Mediterranean Ocean, would need to shoulder increased responsibility to scuttle Iranian petroleum smuggling.
“Iran is trying to bypass the sanctions on it through the covert smuggling of petroleum via the sea,” said Netanyahu. “As these attempts expand, the Israeli navy will have a more important role in efforts to block these Iranian actions. I call on the international community to halt, by any means, Iran’s attempts to bypass the sanctions via the sea.”
Maritime experts have warned in recent months that Iran has ramped up oil smuggling in an attempt to mitigate the economic fallout from the U.S. sanctions. A Reuters report found that common tactics utilized by Iran included “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.”