In a message of defiance and apparent preparedness for escalation, Iran warned on Monday that it could capture American vessels after the Pentagon beefed up its presence in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.
"The Islamic Republic is capable of reciprocating any mischief by the Americans … including through seizure of their vessels in reciprocation," said Brig. Gen. Ramezan Sharif, spokesman for Iran's hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), in comments covered by Fars News Agency.
The reaction came one day after the United States sent a 3,000-strong contingent of US Marines and personnel to the Red Sea. Earlier last month, the US military also dispatched F-35, F-16 and A-10 warplanes along with Navy destroyers to the Persian Gulf. The reinforcement, according to US officials, is meant to conduct joint patrols in the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway of utmost vitality to the global oil trade.
The United States has said the presence is specifically aimed at curbing Iran, which has been "harassing" commercial vessels in the strategic waters. The US Navy has counted 20 cases of harassment, among them attacks or seizures, by the IRGC over the past two years alone, describing Iran as "a clear threat to regional maritime security and the global economy."
Tehran has not denied its involvement in most cases, justifying its behavior on the "war on oil smuggling" or acting based on court orders.
"The countries of the region have rightly realized that Iran is turning into a major regional power," the IRGC spokesman added as he addressed a ceremony in the conservative city of Qom.
Two weeks ago, in an apparent response to the same US deployments, Iran's Defense Ministry delivered to the IRGC dozens of its first-ever long-range naval ballistic missiles, which were said to be entirely "homemade" and capable of "completely destroying" enemy carriers.
"The security of the Persian Gulf has to be maintained by the littoral states there," the spokesman said in his speech, claiming also that those countries "have come to understand America's weakness and the Islamic Republic's strength in the confrontations of the recent years."
One of those countries of the region is the United Arab Emirates, a major rival to the Islamic Republic — one which has been unnerved by ship seizures as well as other maritime tensions blamed on Iranian forces.
Despite recent pushes for reconciliation with Abu Dhabi as part of a greater regional thaw, Tehran held military drills only last week — boasting advancements and boosting defense around three small Persian Gulf Islands under its control but at the very core of a decadeslong territorial dispute with the UAE.