TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard launched a surprise military exercise on disputed islands in the Persian Gulf on Wednesday, as the US military is increasing its presence in the region due to recent ship seizures by Tehran.
The exercise focused primarily on Abu Musa Island, although the Guard also landed forces on Greater Tunb Island, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reported. Ships, drones and missile units took part in the exercise, the report said.
Iran did not give a reason for starting the exercise, although such snap drills have taken place in the past.
“We always try to create security and peace; it is our way,” said the head of the guard, General Hossein Salami, in a televised speech during the exercise. “Our nation is on alert and it is giving tough responses to all threats, complicated insurgencies and covert scenarios and hostilities,”
However, the exercise comes as thousands of Marines and sailors on both the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan and the USS Carter Hall, an amphibious assault ship, are headed to the Persian Gulf. Already, the US has sent A-10 Thunderbolt II warplanes, F-16 and F-35 fighter jets and the destroyer USS Thomas Hudner to the region.
The Pentagon has said the deployment is “in response to recent attempts by Iran to threaten the free flow of commerce in the Strait of Hormuz and its surrounding waters.” About 20% of the world’s oil passes through the narrow waterway that connects the Persian Gulf to the wider world, and the US sees it as vital both to its national security and to keeping global energy prices stable.
In the meantime Iran is now enriching uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels following the collapse of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
The use of Abu Musa and Greater Tunb in the drill also gives another message to the region. These two islands continue to be claimed by the United Arab Emirates, home to Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The late Shah of Iran captured the islands in 1971, just before the United Arab Emirates became an independent country, and Tehran has held the islands ever since. Lesser Tunb Island was also seized.
Seizing these islands reminds Iran’s neighbors of its military might, as Tehran’s diplomats have sought to convince the Gulf Arab states allied with the United States that “foreigners” are not needed to secure the region.
Meanwhile, Iran has sought to signal its displeasure over recent comments from Russia about the islands Tehran has supplied with bomb-carrying drones for its war in Ukraine. Earlier this summer, in a joint statement with the Gulf Cooperation Council, Russia called for “bilateral negotiations or the International Court of Justice” to decide who should control the islands. It led to an outcry in Iran, and Tehran summoned the Russian envoy over the remarks.
Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.