Iran could block off major oil transit chokepoint Strait of Hormuz

Iranian navy personnel celebrate after successfully launching a Ghader missile from the Jask port area on the shores of the Gulf of Oman during a drill near the Strait of Hormuz Tuesday

Iranian navy personnel celebrate after successfully launching a Ghader missile from the Jask port area on the shores of the Gulf of Oman during a drill near the Strait of Hormuz Tuesday

The Strait of Hormuz is a conduit between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman which provides the only sea passage from the Persian Gulf to the open ocean.

On Tuesday, a top Iranian naval commander said the Strait of Hormuz would be affected by the U.S. decision to withdraw from the landmark nuclear deal.

The US military's Central Command confirmed to Reuters that it has seen an increase in Iranian activity, including in the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway for oil shipments that Iran's Revolutionary Guards have threatened to block.

The exercises reportedly began one day after U.S. Central Command said Iran was preparing a massive military exercise in the region.

The vessels are mostly small attack boats, and there have been no interactions with USA ships in the area, the official added.

"We are monitoring it closely, and will continue to work with our partners to ensure freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce in worldwide waterways", Urban said.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard forces are expected to begin a major exercise in the Persian Gulf as soon as within the next 48 hours that could be aimed at demonstrating their ability to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, according to two U.S. officials directly familiar with the latest United States assessment of IRGC troop movements. These types of IRGC exercises typically happen much later in the year and the official said the USA assesses that the exercise is partly being held in response to rising rhetoric from the US.

"In the event Iran choose to militarily close the Strait of Hormuz, the USA and our Arabian Gulf allies would be able to open it in a matter of days", retired Adm. James Stavridis previously told CNBC.

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Reports of the planned maneuvers come days after Iran's President Hassan Rouhani warned the United States it could shut down the waterway in response to the snapback of sanctions, the first wave of which are expected to come into effect on August 6.

"The Strait of Hormuz is the world's most important chokepoint, with an oil flow of 18.5 million b/d in 2016". Hundreds of ground forces may also be involved.

But Iran did not appear interested in drawing attention to them.

Iran on Wednesday said a new naval destroyer was in the testing phase ahead of a deployment to the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran's currency plummeted this week in the lead-up to 7 August, when Washington is due to reimpose a first lot of economic sanctions following Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear deal.

A number of protests have broken out in Iran since the beginning of the year over high prices, water shortage, power cuts and alleged corruption.

On Tuesday, hundreds of people rallied in cities including Isfahan, Karaj, Shiraz and Ahvaz in protest against high inflation caused in part by the weak rial.

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