Iran begins expansive annual war games amid tensions with US

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s military Thursday began an expansive annual three-day exercise near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, state TV reported, with the maneuvers taking place amid heightened tensions between the Islamic Republic and the U.S.

Units from the navy, air force and ground forces are participating in a nearly 2 million-square-kilometer (772,200-square-mile) area of the Gulf of Oman. State television said Iranian submarines and drones were being deployed.

State TV aired footage of the launching of various short range surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles and of jet fighters and airborne troops descending on vessels including a submarine. One of the missiles hit a drone from a mock enemy.

“Marines and commandos … infiltrated at subsurface, surface and air levels by using domestic equipment built by the defense ministry and our scientific and industrial centers,” said Adm. Shahram Irani, the military’s spokesman for the exercise.

On Wednesday, Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, commander of the annual exercise dubbed Zolfaghar-99, said the operation is aimed at “improving readiness in confronting foreign threats and any possible invasion.”

Sayyari’s comments hinted at the threat of military conflict amid tensions between Iran and the U.S., which has sought to extend a years-long U.N. weapons embargo on Tehran that is due to expire in October.

The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which patrols Mideast waterways, declined to comment on the exercise.

Last month, U.S. Central Command published a black-and-white video showing what appeared to be Iranian special forces fast-roping from a helicopter onto the oil tanker MT Wila, whose last position appeared to be off the eastern coast of the United Arab Emirates near the city of Khorfakkan. Iranian state television later acknowledged the brief seizure, referring to the operation as a routine inspection without elaborating.

In July, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard fired a missile from a helicopter targeting a replica of a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz in an exercise aimed at threatening the U.S.

In January, a U.S. drone strike killed a top Iranian general at the Baghdad airport and Tehran responded by firing ballistic missiles at American forces in Iraq.

Iran’s navy operates in the Gulf of Oman on the eastern side of the strait, through which 20% of all oil shipping passes.

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Associated Press writer Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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