LONDON (Reuters) - Iran will respond firmly to any Israeli naval action against its oil shipments, Iran's defence 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 enforce U.S. sanctions.
U.S. President Donald Trump last year quit a nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed 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 Minister of Defense 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.
Hatami said such confrontation would be considered as "piracy" and warned that "if it happens, we will firmly respond."
"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.
An Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander also said on Wednesday that enemies will regret any confrontation with the Islamic Republic.
"We never welcome any war, but we are ready to respond to any invasion. We hope the aggressors do not need to understand this point by trying it and paying a high price," Major General Gholamali Rashid was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency.
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.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Michael Perry and Simon Cameron-Moore)