U.S. warns Iran over military posturing

A video taken shows speedboats from the Iranian revolutionary guard harassing a U.S. warship in the Strait of Hormuz.
CBS News

The United States has sent a warning to Iran over its threat to block the Strait of Hormuz. One-sixth of the world's oil passes through the 35-mile waterway. A warning was sent through a private diplomatic channel to Iran's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khameini. CBS News national security correspondent David Martin looks into the matter.

A video taken shows speedboats from the Iranian revolutionary guard harassing a U.S. warship in the Strait of Hormuz. CBS News

A video taken one week ago shows speedboats from the Iranian revolutionary guard harassing a U.S. warship in the Strait of Hormuz. They closed within 500 yards ignoring whistle and voice signals asking asking their intentions. A second video shot the same day shows more speedboats harassing a U.S. Coast Guard cutter inside the Persian Gulf.

U.S. officials have called this hot-dogging routine posturing that has happened many times before. A Pentagon official says "it got our attention" because of Iran's public threat to close the Strait of Hormuz -- a threat which Defense Secretary Leon Panetta responded to in blunt and unmistakable language.

"We cannot tolerate Iran blocking the Strait of Hormuz. And that's a red line," said Panetta.

Just in case there is any part of that the Iranians don't understand, Secretary of State Clinton said the same response has been delivered to them privately.

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"It has caused us and many of our partners in the region and around the world to reach out to the Iranians to impress upon them the provocative and dangerous nature of the threats to close the Strait of Hormuz," she said.

Most officials do not believe Iran would take such a drastic act since it would cripple its own oil exports and alienate every country that depends on Middle East oil.

Still, the Iranians made the threat in the midst of naval exercises which showcased the weapons it would use to close the strait. As one Pentagon official put it:"Everything they're saying matches what they're doing."

Iran does indeed have the ability to close the strait, but only briefly and only once. After that, its navy would be destroyed.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.