With little active US presence in the region (see latest naval map below), on Sunday Iran launched a massive naval drill at the mouth of the Gulf and the Indian Ocean. Ships, submarines and helicopters will take part in the drills across an area of about 2 million square kilometers (772,000 square miles) and marines will showcase their skills along Iran’s southeastern coast, the state news agency IRNA said even as tensions with the United States continue to build after U.S President Donald Trump put Tehran “on notice”.
Iran’s annual exercises will be held in the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf of Oman, the Bab el-Mandab and northern parts of the Indian Ocean, to train in the fight against terrorism and piracy, Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said, quoted by Reuters. Today’s drill marks the last phase of war games that started in 2016, Iran’s Tasnim news agency reported. The exercise, codenamed ‘Velayat 95’, kicked off in Iran’s south following an order from Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari.
Apart from the main drills, Iran’s Navy commando units are conducting special operations in the southeastern Makran region. Last June, Sayyari said that Tehran was planning to carry out 20 military drills before March 2017. Iranian officials insist that the war games do not violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the nuclear deal between Iran and the Group 5+1 signed in January of 2016.
The UN nuclear watchdog said on Saturday that Iran has been found to be in full compliance with the nuclear deal, but the report comes against a backdrop of rising tensions between Tehran and Washington.
Earlier this month, then-US National Security Advisor Michael Flynn said that “Iran had been put formally on notice” after Tehran fired a ballistic missile. Later in February, President Trump tweeted that “Iran is playing with fire,” promising that he won’t be as “kind as [former President] Obama” and warned the Islamic Republic after its ballistic missile test on Jan. 29 that it was playing with fire and all U.S. options were on the table.
In response, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, blasted the US, saying Tehran remains “unmoved” by threats, but will use weapons “only in self-defense.” Last month, a US Navy destroyer fired warning shots at four Iranian military ships that were allegedly approaching them at high speed near the Strait of Hormuz.
The latest US naval deployment shows that while the South China Sea has been a recent focus of the US navy, the only US ship in the region is the LHD 8 Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group, although the George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier is currently headed for the region.