Iran launched six days of naval exercises around the Strait of Hormuz yesterday, proclaiming they would demonstrate its “defensive” capabilities and send a “message of peace and friendship to regional countries”.
Iran’s Gulf Arab rivals will not see its military muscle-flexing in that light.
Tehran has often warned it would attack American bases on their territories if the United States or Israel strike Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Iran has also repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz – the jugular vein for global oil exports – if attacked.
Washington has warned Iran that any attempt to close the narrow strait at the mouth of the Gulf would be viewed as a “red line” – grounds for military action by the United States.
The Iranian government sees the Gulf as its own backyard and believes it has a legitimate interest in expanding its influence there.
Iran’s navy commander, Habibollah Sayyari, said the Velayat 91 naval drills will cover nearly 400,000 square miles extending to the Sea of Oman and northern parts of the Indian Ocean.
The exercises will involve warships, submarines, jet fighters and hovercraft, while testing the navy’s missile systems and electronic warfare capabilities, Iranian officials said.
Iran’s military posturing, however, is unlikely significantly to stoke tensions with the US, analysts said.
Both sides are preparing for a new round of high-stakes negotiations in January over Tehran’s nuclear programme, which the west suspects is aimed at producing atomic weapons, a charge Iran denies.
About a third of the world’s tanker-borne oil passes through the strategic chokepoint that links the Gulf’s petroleum-exporting states of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar with the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean and beyond.
Iran held similar war games last December when it warned that closing the strait would be easier than “drinking a glass of water”.
At the time, Tehran threatened to close the waterway if the west imposed sanctions on its oil exports, but failed to act when those measures came into effect six months later.