Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps announced at the weekend it had complete a “successful” naval exercise in the Persian Gulf seen in the West as a provocation in response to the US reimposition of sanctions on Tehran.
“Our naval exercise was successful,” IRGC spokesman Ramzan Sharif was quoted by state media as saying. “We’re safeguarding our maritime borders and improving our defense readiness in the Persian Gulf and Straight of Hormuz in the face of the enemy threat.”
Iran launched the exercise on Thursday, a defense official said.
The timing was unusual, as it appears to be similar in scale and nature to a drill that ordinarily happens later, in the autumn.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP several dozen boats took part in the training.
The vessels are mostly small attack boats, and there were no interactions reported with US ships in the strait, one of the world’s most important oil shipping lanes.
In a statement, Captain Bill Urban, the US military’s Central Command spokesman, said the US was “aware of an increase” in Iranian naval operations in the Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the 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,” Urban said.
The exercises come at a time of increased tension between Iran and the United States, which has pulled out of an international nuclear pact and is slapping fresh sanctions on Tehran on Monday.
Iranian leaders have threatened several times in recent weeks to close the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for the renewal of sanctions.
US officials in recent years have accused both the regular Iranian navy and the IRGC of routinely harassing American warships in the Gulf.
But so far this year, to the befuddlement of some military officials, there have been no such incidents.
The IRGC is a paramilitary force that answers directly to the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In January 2016, the Iranians briefly captured the crew of two small US patrol boats that strayed into Iranian waters. The 10 US sailors were released 24 hours later.