The chief of Iran's navy warned Wednesday that his country can easily close the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the Persian Gulf channel where a sixth of the world's oil flows.
It was the second such warning in two days — and a Saudi official said Gulf Arab nations are ready to step in and offset any potential loss of Iranian crude in the world markets.
On Tuesday, Iran's vice president, Mohamed Reza Rahimi, threatened to close the strait, cutting off oil exports, if the West imposes sanctions on Iran's oil shipments.
"Closing the Strait of Hormuz is very easy for Iranian naval forces," Adm. Habibollah Sayyari told state-run Press TV on Wednesday. "Iran has comprehensive control over the strategic waterway."
Western nations are growing increasingly impatient about Iran's nuclear program. The U.S. and its allies have accused Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop nuclear weapons. Iran has denied the charges, saying its program is geared toward generating electricity and producing medical radioisotopes to treat cancer patients.
Iran is the second largest OPEC oil producer, with an output of about 4 million barrels of oil a day. It relies on oil exports for about 80 percent of its public revenues.
Iran has adopted an aggressive military posture in recent months in response to increasing pressure from the U.S. and Israel that could include military action to stop Iran's nuclear program.
The navy is in the midst of a 10-day drill in international waters near the Strait of Hormuz that could bring Iranian ships near U.S. Navy vessels in the area. The exercises began Saturday and involve submarines, missile drills, torpedoes and drones. The war games cover a 1,250-mile stretch of sea off the strategic oil route, northern parts of the Indian Ocean and into the Gulf of Aden, near the entrance to the Red Sea.