TEHRAN — Iran’s Revolutionary Guard launched large-scale naval and air defense drills near a strategic Gulf waterway on Wednesday in which dozens of speedboats swarmed a replica of a US aircraft carrier.
The drill, named Great Prophet 9, was held near the Strait of Hormuz, through which one fifth of the world’s oil passes.
State TV showed footage of missiles fired from the coast and fast boats striking the mock US aircraft carrier. The drills, which also included shooting down a drone and planting undersea mines, were the first to involve a replica of a US carrier.
“American aircraft carriers are very big ammunition depots housing a lot of missiles, rockets, torpedoes and everything else,” the Guard’s navy chief, Adm. Ali Fadavi, said on state TV, adding that a direct hit by a missile could set off a large secondary explosion. Last month Fadavi said his force is capable of sinking American aircraft carriers in the event of war.
The Guard’s chief commander, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, said the drills send a “message of (Iran’s) might” to “extraterritorial powers,” a reference to the United States.
Cmdr. Kevin Stephens, the spokesman for the US Navy’s 5th Fleet in Bahrain, said the Iranian naval exercises began a few days ago and have had no effect on maritime traffic.
Stephens said the Americans were monitoring the drills, but downplayed the simulated attack on the carrier, saying the US military was “not concerned about this exercise.”
“We’re quite confident of our naval forces’ ability to defend themselves,” he said. “It seems they’ve attempted to destroy the equivalent of a Hollywood movie set.”
The exercises began two days after French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle launched operations in the Gulf as part of the international coalition fighting the Islamic State group (IS) in Iraq and Syria.
The ship will be stationed off Saudi Arabia for about eight weeks, working alongside the American aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson.
A nuclear-powered attack submarine, a French anti-aircraft frigate and a British anti-submarine frigate are also in the area.
Rouhani calls to lift all sanctions
The drill came as Iran and the US are attempting to firm up a landmark deal for curbed nuclear activity in exchange for sanctions relief.
On Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said a final draft of the deal must include the lifting of all sanctions on Iran, Iranian news Agency Fars reported.
Iran is currently negotiating an agreement over its disputed nuclear program with the United States and five other world powers.
“Sanction is oppression against people, and development is the inalienable right of the Iranian people,” Rouhani reportedly told a large gathering of Iranians in the holy city of Qom.
He also stated that Iran will not accept “the will of others, humiliation and continued sanctions.”
“The side negotiating with us should know that conclusion of the talks and the result of a deal should be removal of the whole oppressive and illegal sanctions.”
Rouhani further stated that though they plan to continue negotiations, the Western powers should know “that the Iranian nation would never stop moving on the path of scientific development.”
Western nations have long suspected Iran is covertly seeking a nuclear weapons capability, charges denied by Tehran.
The two sides hope to reach a framework agreement next month and a final deal in June.