US, Allies Start ‘Largest’ Naval Drill near Hormuz

Washington and its allies launch the ‘largest-ever’ naval exercise
in the Middle East near the Strait of Hormuz as a top Iranian general warns of
retaliation in the strait

The United States and its allies have launched
the biggest naval exercises ever in the Middle East with battleships, aircraft
carriers, minesweepers and submarines in the Persian Gulf amid the row over
Iran’s controversial nuclear program.

The exercises are taking place
near the Strait of Hormuz, which Iran has threatened to close over the economic
sanctions imposed over its nuclear program. U.S. Navy officials insist that the
anti-mine exercise is not about any specific country or a response to Iranian
threats to shut the narrow Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the gulf, the route
for one-fifth of the world’s oil. Iran has said its forces will be monitoring
the maneuvers. “We are very sensitive about security in the highly strategic
Persian Gulf and we are watching closely,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman
Ramin Mehmanparast said.

“The exercises are based on a hypothetical
threat to mine the international strategic waterways of the Middle East,
including the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman, and the Persian
Gulf,” the U.S. Central Command said in July.

Three US aircraft

Warships from more than 25 countries, including the U.S.,
Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are taking part in
the annual 12-day exercise to prepare for any pre-emptive or retaliatory action
by Iran, according to British newspaper Daily Telegraph. The report said the
navies will practice tactics regarding how to breach an Iranian blockade of the
strait and the force will also undertake counter-mining drills.

multi-national naval force in the gulf includes three U.S. Nimitz-class carrier
groups, each of which has more aircraft than the entire complement of the
Iranian air force. The carriers are supported by at least 12 battleships,
including ballistic missile cruisers, destroyers and assault ships carrying
thousands of U.S. Marines and special forces.

The British component
consists of four British minesweepers and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Cardigan
Bay, a logistics vessel. HMS Diamond, a brand-new Type 45 destroyer and one of
the most powerful ships in the British fleet, will also be operating in the
region. In addition, commanders will also simulate destroying Iranian combat
jets, ships and coastal missile batteries.In addition to the Persian Gulf,
anti-mine practice is planned for the Gulf of Oman and the Gulf of Aden, the
gateway to the Red Sea that has been a focus of international efforts to fight
Somali pirates.

The head of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards warned
of retaliation against the Strait of Hormuz, U.S. bases in the Middle East and
Israel if his country was to be attacked. General Mohammad Ali Jafari said the
Strait of Hormuz would be a legitimate target for Iran should it be

“This is a declared policy by Iran that if war occurs in the
region and the Islamic republic is involved, it is natural that the Strait of
Hormuz as well as the energy (market) will face difficulties,” Agence
France-Presse quoted him as saying.

Jafari suggested that U.S. military
bases would also be fair game for retaliation by Iranian missiles or proxy
forces. “The U.S. has many vulnerabilities around Iran, and its bases are within
the range of the Guards’ missiles. We have other capabilities as well,
particularly when it comes to the support of Muslims for the Islamic republic,”
he said.


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