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Iran kicks off naval missile drills in Gulf of Oman, to renew patrols in Red Sea

Iran's Navy will resume patrols in the Red Sea, the Chief of Staff of the armed forces said

Iran kicked off a naval missile exercise off its southeast coast in the Gulf of Oman on Wednesday amid renewed tensions with the United States. The drill is set to include firing of surface-to-surface missiles and involve submarines and drones, Iranian state media said.

Rear Adm. Ali Kavian said the exercise was held on short notice to evaluate the ability of Iran’s navy to “react in a timely and effective manner” to potential threats.

Two newly commissioned warships were set to take part in the drills, state media said: the Makran, a former oil tanker converted into a floating sea base, and the Zereh, a missile-laden frigate. Iran’s military has said the Makran can carry multiple helicopters and its fuel capacity means it can remain at sea for up to 1,000 days.

The chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces also said during a ceremony today that the navy would resume patrols in the Red Sea to protect Iranian trade vessels in the region.

The exercises come amid heightened tensions with the United States, which has sought to economically isolate Iran and roll back its government’s influence in the Middle East and beyond.

The United States last year seized the fuel cargo of four Iranian vessels headed to Venezuela, citing alleged ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Last week Iran seized a South Korean vessel and detained its crew in an apparent attempt to convince officials in Seoul to release $7 billion in Iranian oil held due to US sanctions.

Wednesday’s exercise comes after the United States sent a guided-missile submarine and two cruisers into the Persian Gulf last month as part of a wider show of force to deter Tehran from potentially retaliating around the one-year anniversary of the US assassination for Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, widely seen as the architect of Iran’s regional influence campaign.

The Pentagon also ordered a series of long-range, short-notice flights of nuclear-capable B-52 bombers to the Middle East and directed the supercarrier USS Nimitz to remain in the region.

Iran has rapidly developed its conventional ballistic missile program in recent years, something Trump administration officials see as a potential threat to US partners on the Arabian Peninsula and Israel. US officials see Iran’s conventional missile and space programs as a path toward eventually developing nuclear-capable ballistic projectiles.

Iran’s latest exercise follows a parade by Iran’s Navy naval in the Gulf on Saturday and a highly-publicized two-day exercise testing various drones in the country’s drone arsenal last week.

Also last week, Iranian state television aired footage showing Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami touring what it said was a new underground missile base near the Persian Gulf, claimed to be one of several.

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