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Iran's potential to shut down nearly 40 percent of the world's oil trade represents a weapon possibly more powerful than its missiles, gunboats or any arms system Tehran claims to possess.
But such a move would cut both ways in any possible military showdown with the United States.
The Islamic Republic's overwhelming dependence on revenue from its crude exports means it could end up suffering a sharp and self-inflicted blow if it turns off the spigots and blocks Persian Gulf supply lines.
Oil remains near historic heights. And jittery markets jump at any sign that supplies could grow tighter, spiking at every hint of new tensions over Tehran's nuclear defiance.