Iran, whose nuclear program is the source of all this international tension, has grown increasingly bold in recent weeks as Israel refuses to rule out military action, and the United States and Europe intensify economic sanctions.
Now Iran seems to be issuing both implied and explicit threats to Israel and the West. Here's what you need to know.
The U.S. Is Increasing its Numbers in the Persian Gulf
Nearly one fifth of the world's oil supply passes through the Strait of Hormuz, and the United States has no intention of allowing the Iranians to block it. The United States has "quietly moved military reinforcements to the Persian Gulf," including, most visibly, a buildup of Navy ships in the region, according to the New York Times.
“The message to Iran is, ‘Don’t even think about it,’ ” one senior Defense Department official said. “Don’t even think about closing the strait. We’ll clear the mines. Don’t even think about sending your fast boats out to harass our vessels or commercial shipping. We’ll put them on the bottom of the gulf.”
But our presence has not gone unnoticed. If there is any form of attack against the Iranian regime, the country's officials have vowed to hit both Israel and Western forces in the region.
The Associated Press reports:
Iran's semi-official news agency Fars is reporting the country can destroy nearby U.S. military bases and strike Israel within minutes of an attack on the Islamic Republic.
The Wednesday report quotes Gen. Ami Ali Hajizadeh of the powerful Revolutionary Guards as saying U.S. bases, and Israel - which he referred to as "occupied territories" - are in range of Iran's missiles and could be struck as a retaliatory measure.
"Measures have been taken so that we could destroy all these bases in the early minutes of an attack," reiterated Hajizadeh, chief of the Guards' airspace division.
Firing on "Mock Enemy Bases"
Unlike in years past, when the country's weapons program was far less developed, it would be unwise to rule out Iran's ability to retaliate.
ABC reports that, to disrupt U.S. interests, Iran doesn't necessarily need a nuclear weapon. A few mines could inflict significant damage:
The Iranian military has launched a barrage of missiles at "mock enemy bases" as part of a major war games exercise aimed at dissuading any potential outsider attack, the nation's state-run media reported Tuesday.
During what is called "The Great Prophet 7" drills, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) "targeted and destroyed hypothetical bases of ultra-regional forces set up in desert areas," according to Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency. The reports did not identify the "ultra-regional forces" but alluded to the ongoing diplomatic conflict between Iran and the U.S., which has several major military installations in the region.
"The main aim of this drill was to demonstrate the Iranian nation's political resolve to defend [its] vital values and national interests," IRGC Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami said, according to another state-run news outlet, Press TV. Press TV paraphrased Salami's description of the drills as a "firm response to those who threaten Iran with the option of military action."
Even if the Strait of Hormuz remains open, the tension can still impact the cost of oil. The AFP reports:
Oil prices shot up Tuesday on fresh tensions over Iran, where lawmakers threatened to shut the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for oil sanctions, and after a strike shuttered production in Norway.
New York's main contract, light sweet crude for August, soared $3.91 to close at $87.66 a barrel.
In London trade, Brent North Sea crude for delivery in August settled at $100.68 a barrel, jumping $3.34 from Monday's closing level.
"With Iran oil out and Norway on strike it is giving the oil market reason to bounce!" said Phil Flynn at Price Futures Group.