Iran launches exercise in the Persian Gulf

Iran launches naval exercise in the Persian Gulf days before the U.S. reimposes sanctions on Tehran.

Elad Benari,

Strait of Hormuz
Strait of Hormuz

Iran launched a naval exercise in the Persian Gulf on Thursday, a U.S. defense official told AFP.

The timing of the exercise is unusual, as it appears to be similar in scale and nature to a drill that ordinarily happens later in the autumn. It comes just days before the U.S. reimposes sanctions on Tehran after its withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said several dozen boats were out training early Thursday morning.

The vessels are mostly small attack boats, and there have been no interactions with U.S. ships in the area, the official added, according to AFP.

In a statement, Captain Bill Urban, the military's Central Command spokesman, said the U.S. 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.

On Wednesday, American officials said the planned drill could be aimed at demonstrating the ability of the Revolutionary Guards to shut down the Strait of Hormuz.

The Strait of Hormuz is a strategically critical passageway linking the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea that is crucial to international shipping and particularly for global energy supplies.

Iran has threatened more than once to close the Strait of Hormuz, with the United States warning Iran in response that any attempt to close the strait would be viewed as a "red line" -- grounds for U.S. military action.

The latest such threat came last month, when the IRGC warned it could block the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf should the U.S. prevents its oil exports.

Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have increased following President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 deal, under which sanctions on Iran were lifted in return for curbs to its nuclear program.

Washington has since told countries they must stop buying Iranian oil from November 4 or face financial measures.