Military tensions in the Persian Gulf have escalated further amid the impact of newly re-imposed US sanctions on Iran, warnings to curb regional belligerence from the Trump Administration and confirmations of increased Iranian military activity.
General Ramazan Sharif, spokesman for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), confirmed to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency this week that planned naval operations had been moved forward and were being carried out in the Strait of Hormuz in order to “confront threats and potential adventurous acts of enemies”.
US military officials have grown concerned after noticing the increased Iranian naval presence in the vital international shipping lane. It was reported that Iran had deployed over 100 battle-ready vessels to take part in exercises within the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman.
Captain Bill Urban, spokesman for the Navy Central Command, told reporters that the US is “aware of the increase in Iranian naval operations… We are monitoring it closely, and will continue to work with our partners to ensure freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in international waterways.”
Tempers between the Iranian regime and the Trump Administration have been running high since the US withdrew its support for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal). With neither side willing to cede ground over the issue, rhetorical skirmishes have become commonplace between Washington and Tehran.
President Trump declared on Twitter last month that President Rouhani must “never, ever threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before. We are no longer a country that will stand for your demented words of violence & death. Be cautious!”
Responding to Trump and his threat to sanction countries who continue to purchase Iranian oil, Rouhani addressed diplomats in Tehran. He said that “no one who really understands politics would say they will block Iran’s oil exports…”
“Mr Trump, we are the honest men who have throughout history guaranteed the safety of the region’s waterways,” he commented before adopting a more sinister note, warning the US President: “Do not play with the lion’s tail, it will bring regret.”
But despite President Rouhani’s show of naval force in the waters surrounding Iran, the situation within the country is looking increasingly febrile.
The imposition of pre-nuclear deal US sanctions on the Islamic Republic has raised the stakes for President Rouhani and his Government. They have faced backlash from the Iranian public, who have taken to the streets across the country in protest against economic instability and Iran’s financial support for its aggressive regional proxies.
Demonstrators have been met on the streets by armed state security forces. Several protestors have been injured in clashes with police, many more have been arrested, while some have died. Those detained have been threatened with execution on tenuous charges by a Government unwilling to give up ground to the dissenters.
Amnesty International Human Rights prize-winner Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, based in Norway, told reporters last month that “in recent weeks and months we’ve had many protests. Human rights are suffering and every day they suffer more. Iran is amongst the biggest violators of human rights in the world today.”
“There are people who have been executed for economic corruption. But the trials are not public so nobody knows that what the authorities are claiming is true. From the authorities’ view, these death sentences are more important as instruments of intimidation and spreading fear.”
The Iranian regime claims that theirs is a nation of peace and that they have been unfairly chastised by the West. But the truth is that it is a country led by a gang of ideological zealots who, even as their own people rise up against them, continue to stoke the embers of conflict.