As tensions with U.S. rise, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard says it held Persian Gulf drills

Reuters

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard confirmed Sunday it has held war games in the Persian Gulf over the past several days, saying they were aimed at “confronting possible threats” by enemies, state news agency IRNA reported.

U.S. officials said Thursday that the United States believed Iran had started carrying out naval exercises in the gulf, apparently moving up the timing of annual drills amid heightened tensions with Washington.

“This exercise was conducted with the aim of controlling and safeguarding the safety of the international waterway and within the framework of the program of the Guard’s annual military exercises,” Guard spokesman Ramezan Sharif said, according to IRNA.

The U.S. military’s Central Command on Wednesday confirmed it has seen increased Iranian naval activity. The activity extended to the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway for oil shipments the Revolutionary Guard have threatened to block.

Guard commander Mohammad Ali Jafari “expressed satisfaction over the successful conduct of the Guard’s naval exercise, emphasizing the need to maintain and enhance defense readiness and the security of the gulf and the Strait of Hormuz and to confront threats and potential adventurous acts of enemies,” IRNA quoted Sharif as saying.

One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said possibly more than 100 vessels were involved in the drills, including small boats.

U.S. officials said the drills appeared designed to send a message to Washington, which is intensifying its economic and diplomatic pressure on Tehran but so far stopping short of using the U.S. military to more aggressively counter Iran and its proxies.

Iran has been furious over U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program and re-impose sanctions on Tehran. Senior Iranian officials have warned the country will not easily yield to a renewed U.S. campaign to strangle Iran’s vital oil exports.

But Iran did not appear interested in drawing attention to the drills. Iranian authorities had not commented on them earlier and several officials contacted recently declined to comment.

Last month, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei backed President Hassan Rouhani’s suggestion that Iran may block gulf oil exports if its own exports are stopped.

Rouhani’s apparent threat earlier in July to disrupt oil shipments from neighboring countries came in reaction to the looming U.S. sanctions and efforts by Washington to force all countries to stop buying Iranian oil.