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Iranian War Games Intensify Arab Anxiety


Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards began a second day of military exercises in the Persian Gulf Friday to show their readiness to contest any attack by the United States or Israel. Analysts, however, say the maneuvers are also sending a strong message to Arab nations, which already believe Tehran has plans to extend its power in the region.

Iran's semi-official Fars News Agency reported on Wednesday that the current "war game" does not pose a threat to "friendly countries".

Whether the nation considers its neighbors in the Gulf as friends remains unclear.

The Arab countries are strong trading partners with Iran, but they are also staunch allies of the United States, which is calling for more international sanctions to halt Iranian nuclear activities.

Associate Fellow at the Middle East and North African Bureau of the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs, Sir Richard Dalton, says it is a complex relationship.

"There are several different strands to the relationship between the Gulf countries and Iran," said Sir Richard Dalton. "First of all, they [the Gulf countries] recognize that Iran is the big neighbor in the region so they need to retain diplomatic communication and personal relations. Secondly, to an extent, they are also rivals in that Iran seeks to be the chief military and political power in the region and the Arab countries are concerned about that because they don't want to come under Iranian influence."

Iran is carrying out its military exercises in the Strait of Hormuz, where 40 percent of the world's traded oil passes through. Tehran says it will close the waterway in the future if it is attacked.

Naval, air and ground forces are taking part in the maneuvers that are scheduled to end on Saturday. Earlier this week, State Press TV announced that a new weapon system would be used during the operations.

Senior advisor at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center, Mustafa Alani, says Iran routinely carries out war drills and the current one is not unique.

"On average, the Revolutionary Guard conducts maneuvers almost every four months, so it is nothing new actually," said Mustafa Alani. "We in the region are used to hearing about Revolutionary Guard maneuvers and it has become part of our lives."

But the director of the London-based Center for Arab and Iranian Studies, Ali Nourizadeh, says although Iran's exercises may be routine, Gulf Arab countries continue to keep a close eye on them.

"The military game in the Persian Gulf is one way or another sending them [Gulf countries] a special message," said Ali Nourizadeh. "If Iran came under attack by Israelis or Americans, in response, the Iranians cannot send their missiles to bombard American bases in the United States, therefore, they come to them [Gulf countries]. They knock on their doors and send their bombs and their shells and their missiles to their countries and therefore they are worried. They [Gulf countries] look with much concern to these recent war games and recent missile tests and all sorts of military activities of Iran."

The United States has been quietly constructing anti-missile systems in the Gulf for the past several months. The aim is to deter Iran from attacking American allies if further sanctions are imposed.

The West is calling for more sanctions after Tehran repeatedly refused to comply with international regulations regarding its nuclear program.

It is widely believed Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons, but the country denies the accusations, saying its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

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