Iran will launch 10 days of naval drills from Saturday around the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial oil shipping route, media said, after a rumour earlier this month that it planned to close the waterway.
“Our naval drill will begin from 24 December lasting 10 days covering east of Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman to the Gulf of Aden”, navy commander Admiral Habibollah Sayari was quoted as saying on Thursday by the Fars news agency.
“This is the first time that we are covering such large area”, he added.
Foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said on December 14 that closing the strait was “not on the agenda,” after the rumour that appeared to stem from a comment by an Iranian lawmaker.
But Mehmanparast had hinted that the strait, a narrow stretch along Iran’s gulf shore line, could be threatened if current rising tensions in the region ever spilled over into war.
When asked Thursday if the strait will be closed as part of the impending naval drill, Sayari said, according to the ISNA news agency: “The ability to do so exists… whether to go ahead lays with the regime’s top officials.”
Oil prices spiked dramatically after the rumour, but quickly returned to normal once the rumour was discounted.
More than a third of the world’s tanker oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz, making it a vital transit point. The United States maintains a naval presence in the Gulf to ensure it remains open.
Sayari said the “newest Iranian missile torpedo system”, and “coordination between submarines and warships to confront piracy, environmental threats and terrorism,” would be featured in the new drill.
Tehran’s navy is tasked with defending Iranian waters east of the Strait of Hormuz, while the Islamic republic’s elite Revolutionary Guards is in charge of Iranian coast in the Gulf.
In recent years, both Iranian vessels and those of other nations have received Iranian naval escorts through the pirate-infested waters off Somalia.
Sayari has previously said that Iran’s navy has escorted more than 1,300 ships and faced-off hundreds of armed clashes with pirates.
The United States also has a strong naval presence in the Gulf with the Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in Washington: “Iran has, as every maritime nation does, a right to exercise its navy, and we’re certainly going to do that with ours.”