Iran plans to demonstrate its “capabilities” by conducting six days of naval exercise in the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf later this week, its top navy officer said on Tuesday.
The drills, dubbed “Velayat 91,” will cover an area that includes the strait, the Sea of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean, Admiral Habibollah Sayari said in remarks reported by the ISNA news agency.
Warships, submarines and missile defense systems will be used and tested during the exercise scheduled to begin on Dec. 28, he said.
“We will definitely respect the maritime border of our neighbors, and conduct the maneuvers based on international law,” Sayari said.
“Iran aims to demonstrate its defensive naval capabilities by conducting this exercise, and send a message of peace and friendship to regional countries.”
Iran frequently conducts missile tests and maneuvers to underline its military muscle and has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz to oil tanker traffic should it be attacked.
The strait is a narrow channel at the entrance of the Gulf through which a third of the world’s traded oil passes.
The United States has warned Iran that any attempt to close the strait would be viewed as a “red line” -- grounds for U.S. military action.
Iran’s regular navy, with 17,000 servicemen, is tasked with defending Iranian interests in the Indian Ocean and beyond. Its offshore forces are limited to half a dozen small frigates and destroyers, and three Russian Kilo class submarines.
The naval arm of the elite Revolutionary Guards is tasked with defending Iran’s territorial waters in the Gulf.
Iran regularly denounces the regional presence of foreign forces, including the U.S., particularly those stationed in the Gulf. It says the security of the region must be ensured “by regional countries.”
Arab monarchies on the opposite side of the Gulf from Iran are worried by what they see as territorial ambitions by the Islamic republic, which frequently stresses Persia’s historic dominance over the waterway.
The mass deployment of UK and U.S. forces in the Arabian Gulf earlier this year was been downplayed by defense experts in September, brushing off suggestions that the substantial military moves were linked to a possible Israeli military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
With the looming possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, recent media speculation has asserted that Western battleships, minesweepers and submarines massing near the strategic Strait of Hormuz could be an unprecedented show of force by the bloc.
Asked if the exercise has anything to do with the ongoing tension between Israel and Iran, Lt. Greg Raelson, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, told Al Arabiya English: “No; this international mine countermeasures exercise 2012 is not being conducted in response to any one particular threat or a specific situation.”
The U.S. Navy announced, on Aug. 30, in a press release posted on its official blog (http://navylive.dodlive.mil/) that “the U.S. Fifth Fleet will host its first International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX)” in the Arabian Gulf . “With more than 20 nations participating from Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and North America, IMCMEX 2012 will be the largest of its kind ever in this region,” according to the U.S. Navy statement.
The statement added “that IMCMEX 12 is a defensive exercise aimed at preserving freedom of navigation in international waterways in the region.”
“The international community has a critical shared interest in the free flow of commerce via strategic waterways,” the statement added.