Iran conducts naval drills near Strait of Hormuz amid tensions

Iran conducts naval drills near Strait of Hormuz amid tensions
A Revolutionary Guard member chants slogans after attacking a naval vessel during a military drill in the Strait of Hormuz in southern Iran in this file photo. (AFP)
Updated 27 February 2017

Iran conducts naval drills near Strait of Hormuz amid tensions

Iran conducts naval drills near Strait of Hormuz amid tensions

TEHRAN/JEDDAH: Iran’s navy began an annual drill Sunday near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, its first major exercise since the inauguration of US President Donald Trump, state television reported.

The naval exercises are being staged at a time when tensions with the US escalated after the administration of US President Donald Trump put Tehran “on notice.” 

Since taking office last month, Trump has pledged to get tough with Iran, warning the Islamic Republic after its ballistic missile test on Jan. 29 that it was playing with fire and all US options were on the table. The January test failed when a medium-range Khorramshahr ballistic missile exploded after flying 600 miles.

Tensions are particularly high in the Gulf region as the Saudi-led coalition continues to battle Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. The TV report quoted navy chief Adm. Habibollah Sayyari as saying the two-day maneuver will cover an area of 2 million sq km in the Sea of Oman and the Indian Ocean near the strait. It showed Iranian warships and helicopters.

Nearly a third of all oil traded by sea passes through the strait and it has been the scene of previous confrontations between the US and Iran.

But the current drill does not involve Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard. The US Navy’s 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain and protects shipping lanes in the Gulf and nearby waters.

The 5th Fleet declined to comment on the exercise or discuss if it had any plans to monitor the drill.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, Harvard University scholar, told Arab News that Iran’s state-owned newspapers are hailing the second major military exercise since the inauguration of Trump. 

“The reformists, moderates and hardliners believe that this is a tactically and strategically intelligent move,” Rafizadeh said. “Iran is sending a message to the Trump administration and regional powers that it will not alter the core pillars of its foreign and regional policy even if there is a new administration in Washington.” 

Rafizadeh noted the Islamic Republic is showcasing its military and hard power in an attempt to assert regional preeminence and superiority. 

“Tehran is also sensing a signal that it holds power over Strait of Hormuz where a third of all oil traded by sea goes through. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps has previously harassed US navy ships in this area. Finally, by acting tough, Iran’s military is attempting to set the tone with the Trump administration in an attempt to intimidate and push the US and its allies into pursuing appeasement policies with Tehran.”

Rafizadeh said he feels that, “if the Trump administration does not respond to Iran’s hard power, “Tehran would take it as a sign of weakness, and this will set the tone and regional balance of power in favor of Tehran.”

— Associated Press, Reuters