Iranian naval forces are preparing a major exercise in the Persian Gulf within the next 48 hours, moving an annual event up by several months in a possible demonstration of Tehran’s ability to disrupt the economically vital sea channel, U.S. defense officials said Wednesday.
Iran is expected to deploy more than 100 small, fast-moving boats to practice its yearly “swarm” drill to block the Strait of Hormuz, a natural choke point that separates the Persian Gulf from the open Indian Ocean. Iranian air and ground assets, including missile batteries, could also be involved in the exercise.
“We are aware of the increase in Iranian naval operations within the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman,” Captain William Urban, chief spokesman for U.S. Central Command said in a statement, according to CNN. “We are monitoring it closely, and will continue to work with our partners to ensure freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce in international waterways.”
Iran’s swarm drill is an annual exercise, but it usually takes place in the fall. Some Pentagon officials suspect the exercise was initiated sooner due to bellicose rhetoric between President Donald Trump and Iranian leaders. (RELATED: Iran Responds To Trump’s Threat: BE CAUTIOUS)
There is no indication that Iran is directly threatening U.S. or allied forces in the region, according to defense officials. However, the timing of the drill has prompted concerns that the war of words is increasing the chance of a military confrontation over the Strait of Hormuz, through which roughly 10 percent of world oil supplies are shipped each year.
The Navy currently has one guided missile destroyer, the USS The Sullivans, sailing the Persian Gulf. There are also 10 American patrol craft based in nearby Bahrain, the headquarters of the Navy’s 5th fleet, reports Fox News.
Despite escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran, Trump said Monday he would meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani with “no preconditions.” Tehran rejected the offer the next day.
“Threats, sanctions & PR stunts won’t work,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter. “Try respect: for Iranians & for int’l commitments.”
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