Iranian flag
Iranian flagiStock

Iran on Sunday began an annual air force drill in the central part of country, The Associated Press reported.

The drill comes as the US sends more fighter planes to the region to deter the Islamic Republic from seizing commercial vessels in the Persian Gulf area.

Iran’s official IRNA news agency said 11 Iranian air force bases participated in the drill, dubbed Fadaeian Velyat-11, or Devotees of the Supreme Leader-11. It said an air base at the southern port of Bandar Abbas at the mouth of the strategic Strait of Hormuz is active in the drill.

The report said more than 90 fighter planes, bombers and drones would participate in the drill.

Air Force Chief Gen. Hamid Vahedi said the drill’s message is one of friendship, peace and security in the region.

“Sustainable security, improving and fostering regional ties, peaceful coexistence and defending air borders are on the agenda,” he said, according to AP.

Iran regularly holds such drills and says they are designed to assess force’s combat readiness and demonstrate the nation’s military capabilities.

The drill comes after a senior defense official said last week that the US would be beefing up its use of fighter jets around the strategic Strait of Hormuz to protect ships from Iranian seizures.

Later, the Pentagon said that the United States will send additional F-35 and F-16 fighter jets, along with a warship to the Middle East.

The US decided to beef up its presence in the region comes after Iran tried to seize two oil tankers near the strait last week, opening fire on one of them.

Officials have said that, in the past two years, Iran has harassed, attacked or interfered with the navigational rights of 15 internationally flagged commercial vessels.

In late April, Iran seized the Marshall Islands-flagged Advantage Sweet as it traveled in the Gulf of Oman. Six days later, it seized a second ship, the Niovi, a Panama-flagged tanker as it left a dry dock in Dubai.

The Strait of Hormuz, a crucial waterway for global energy supplies, has often been a site of tense encounters between Americans and Iranian forces.

In early December, an Iranian patrol boat tried to temporarily blind US Navy ships in the Strait of Hormuz by shining a spotlight toward the vessels and crossing within 150 yards of them.

Last August, an Iranian ship seized an American military unmanned research vessel in the Gulf but released it after a US Navy patrol boat and helicopter were deployed to the location.