Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard fired a missile from a helicopter on Tuesday. It targeted a replica aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz. The exercise appears to be one of intimidation, aimed at threatening the United States amid tensions between Tehran and Washington. (See also Persian Gulf Tensions.)
The drill took place in a waterway through which 20% of all traded oil passes. That location seems strategic. Interrupting oil trade can harm economies.
The exercise underlines the lingering threat of military conflict between the two nations. Last summer saw a series of incidents targeting oil tankers in the region. In January, a U.S. drone strike killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad, Iraq. Tehran responded by firing ballistic missiles at American forces there.
While the coronavirus pandemic has engulfed both Iran and the United States for months, signs of potential confrontation continue. America wants to extend a years-long United Nations weapons embargo (or prohibitive order) on Tehran that is due to expire in October.
In video footage aired Tuesday, Iranian commandos dropped by rope from a helicopter onto the aircraft carrier replica. Other footage showed fast boats encircling the mock-up, kicking up white waves in their wake.
Iranian troops fired anti-aircraft batteries at a drone target in the exercise and launched missiles from trucks on land and fast boats at sea.
It wasn’t immediately clear if all the footage was from Tuesday. One overhead surveillance image appeared to be shot by a drone with Monday’s date. The United States had expected the exercise or something like it. Satellite photos released Monday showed the fake carrier being moved into place by a tugboat.
The replica used in the drill resembles the Nimitz-class carriers that the U.S. Navy routinely sails into the Persian Gulf. The USS Nimitz, namesake of the class, entered Mideast waters late last week from the Indian Ocean. It will likely replace the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Arabian Sea.
It remains unclear when or if the Nimitz will pass through the Strait of Hormuz during its time in the Mideast. The USS Abraham Lincoln deployed last year as tensions initially spiked. It spent months in the Arabian Sea before heading through the strait. The Eisenhower came through the strait early last week.
To Iran, the American naval presence is akin to Iranian forces sailing into the Gulf of Mexico near the coast of Florida. But the U.S. Navy stresses that the strait is an international waterway crucial to global shipping and energy supplies.
Commander Rebecca Rebarich is a spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet that patrols the Mideast. She says officials were aware of the Iranian exercise involving “a vessel similar to a motionless aircraft carrier.”
“The U.S. Navy conducts defensive exercises with our partners promoting maritime security in support of freedom of navigation, whereas Iran conducts offensive exercises, attempting to intimidate and coerce,” Rebarich says.
(In this July 26, 2020, satellite photo, an Iranian fast boat, top left, approaches a mockup aircraft carrier built by Iran in the Strait of Hormuz. Maxar Technologies via AP)