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Iran starts massive naval drill in vital global Strait ahead of US sanctions

Navy of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution commandos in the Strait of Hormuz, Persian Gulf. Feb. 2015. (sayyed shahab-o- din vajedi/Wikimedia Commons)
August 03, 2018

Iran is currently carrying out a major naval exercise near the Strait of Hormuz, the same major shipping route of global oil supply they’ve threatened to block.

The exercise is considered a possible response to rhetoric and sanctions from the Trump Administration in pressuring Iran away from nuclear activities, as well as the U.S. Navy’s presence in the area, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

U.S. officials have been monitoring Iran’s naval activity in the Strait. The exercise fully began on Aug. 2 and will end Aug. 6. More than 100 Iranian naval boats and ships are present for the exercise, though most are smaller boats. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and other aircraft have also been spotted participating in the exercise.

The annual exercise typically occurs later in the year with a significantly smaller fleet. The changed schedule and larger fleet may be an attempt by Iran to show off its ability to potentially close the Strait, which Iran has threatened to do numerous times.

The U.S. is set to enact the first of renewed sanctions against Iran on Aug. 7., according to RadioFreeEurope.

The impending sanctions have already made an impact on the Iranian economy, as the country’s currency – the rial – dropped to record lows, fueling unrest and protests in Tehran.

Press counselor for Iran’s U.N. mission didn’t elaborate on the naval exercise, but referenced a statement made by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Thursday via Twitter, in which Zarif criticized the U.S. Navy for their presence in the Arabian Gulf.

“US Navy can’t seem to find its way around our waters. Perhaps because it hasn’t figured out its name: Persian Gulf, as it’s been called for 2,000 yrs longer than US has existed. Or maybe it doesn’t know what it’s doing in our backyard, 7,000 miles from home,” Zarif tweeted.

Navy Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for Central Command, said: “We are aware of the increase in Iranian naval operations within the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman.”

“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,” he added.

Tensions have been growing between the U.S. and Iran since President Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. The President also levied economic sanctions against Iran, in addition to urging other nations to reduce their reliance on Iranian oil.

As a result, Iranian leaders have expressed their outrage by threatening to close the Strait – where more than 18 million barrels of oil are transferred each day – if Iranian oil exports are blocked.