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Iran raises defenses around key oil, petrochemical facilities

Tehran — Iran inaugurated a new air defense center Monday that will protect its Assaluyeh energy hub and secure shipping and civil flights, state television reported, as the country girds for retaliation from last month's missile attacks on Saudi Arabia's key oil infrastructure.

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Saudi officials have blamed Iran for the strikes, though Tehran has denied involvement, even as it has threatened to disrupt shipping through the Strait of Hormuz if US sanctions -- backed by Saudi Arabia -- succeed in bringing Iranian oil exports down to zero.

The Persian Gulf Air Defense Command Center will monitor air traffic on Iran's southern shores on the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and Sea of Oman. New air defense systems have also been set up to complement existing ones, including in the critical gas and petrochemical zone of Assaluyeh and Kharg.

"Iran's armed forces have been prepared to powerfully defend air, maritime and land borders," said Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi, commander in chief of Iran's army. "There is no gap in the defense. ... At the moment, the operational arrangement and array is on the highest and best level. ... We have no worries."

Iran's crude output fell to 2.23 million b/d in September, according to the latest S&P Global Platts survey of OPEC production. Exports have been slashed, with many buyers shying away to avoid being penalized by US sanctions, though some illicit shipments continue.

Recent reports have indicated a potential thawing of tensions between the US and Iran, though US President Donald Trump has said he rejects Tehran's demands that sanctions be eased before Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani will consent to a meeting.

Iranian oil minister Bijan Zanganeh said Sunday that the country was using "every method" to export its crude in the face of US sanctions, oil ministry news service Shana reported.

Mousavi also checked out the joint forces' air defense system on Kharg Island, where Iran's oil main exports terminal facilities lie, army news service eported.

The inauguration was accompanied by a war game that involved assisting with a damaged aircraft and fighting attacking planes.

"Frankly speaking, we consider you as the front-line soldiers of the economic war," Mousavi told staffers at an oil loading dock on Kharg Iland.

-- Aresu Eqbali,

-- Edited by Bill Montgomery,