BRITAIN has warned Iran the Royal Navy will step in if it carries out its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz.
In a shot across the bows, defence secretary Philip Hammond said any attempt to close the vital Gulf trading route would be ‘illegal and unsuccessful’ – hinting the move would be countered by warships in the area.
The comments, made during a visit to the United States, came after Iran said it will close the Strait of Hormuz if sanctions are imposed on its vast oil exports in a bid to force it to drop its nuclear program.
More than 15m barrels of oil a day – a sixth of global consumption – flows through the key body of water between Iran and Oman at the mouth of the Arabian Gulf.
Mr Hammond said: ‘Our joint naval presence in the Arabian Gulf, something our regional partners appreciate, is key to keeping the Strait of Hormuz open for international trade.
‘The Royal Navy will continue to play a substantial role as part of the Combined Maritime Forces, both at the headquarters in Bahrain, and through our mine counter-measure vessels which help maintain freedom of navigation in the Gulf.
‘Disruption to the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz would threaten regional and global economic growth. Any attempt by Iran to do this would be illegal and unsuccessful.’
The Royal Navy currently has nine ships in the Arabian Gulf – the frigate HMS Somerset, minehunters HMS Ramsey, HMS Pembroke, HMS Middleton and HMS Quorn, survey vessel HMS Echo and the supply ships RFA Diligence, RFA Lyme Bay and RFA Fort Victoria.
Former First Sea Lord, Admiral Lord Alan West, backed Mr Hammond on his tough stance over Iran.
He told The News: ‘You’ve got to be robust with them because sometimes they act in the most stupid way.
‘The thing is, the reductions this government has made to the navy makes it less able to react to a situation like a war with Iran than before.’
Mr Hammond’s visit to the US comes amid heightened tensions with Tehran.
Britain and France are expected to call for an EU embargo on Iranian oil imports when ministers meet in Brussels on January 30.