General Mohammad Ali Jafari. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed Jafari Commander-in-Chief in September 2007. (Photo: Stringer / Reuters)
A military official is quoted as saying Tehran would respond to a confrontation over its nuclear program.
Beirut - The commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard said the government might shut down vital oil lanes through the Persian Gulf if the country were attacked by the United States or Israel, according to a newspaper report Saturday.
Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari warned that if there were any confrontation over Iran's nuclear program, Tehran would try to damage Western economies by targeting oil.
"Naturally every country under attack by an enemy uses all its capacity and opportunities to confront the enemy," Jafari said to the hard-line newspaper Jaam-e Jam, according to translations of his comments on the English-language website of the semiofficial Fars News Agency.
"Iran will definitely act to impose control on the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz," through which 17 million barrels of oil passes each day.
"After this action, the oil price will rise very considerably and this is among the factors deterring the enemies," he said.
Iran abuts the strategic strait, and Iranian and Western analysts have frequently said that the country could try to blockade or mine it in the event of a war, a move that would send oil prices skyrocketing.
But some military analysts say Iran might not be able to hold the waterway, which is 21 miles wide at its narrowest point, in a confrontation with U.S. warships and aircraft.
The West and Iran remain locked in a standoff over uranium enrichment, which Tehran insists is meant to produce fuel for energy production, but which the U.S. and its allies allege is the cornerstone of an eventual weapons program.
The West has threatened a fourth round of United Nations sanctions as well as a tightening of other economic restrictions if the program is not suspended.
U.S. lawmakers are considering resolutions that would require President Bush to increase pressure on Tehran by preventing the export of refined petroleum products and inspecting "all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran."
U.S. officials this month also leaked word of a large Israeli military exercise that they described as a prelude to a possible attack on Iran.
Tehran has reacted angrily to the pressure, which comes as it considers a package of U.S. and European-backed incentives meant to entice the government to halt enrichment activities. An escalating war of words has rattled nerves and contributed to rising oil prices.
Jafari also warned of possible reprisals against countries that allow the U.S. or Israel to use their territory or airspace to launch attacks against Iran.
"If enemies from outside the region use the soil of regional countries against the Islamic Republic of Iran ... the governments of those countries will be responsible, and it is our obvious right to act in the same way against their military capabilities and abilities of enemies everywhere," Jafari said.