Iran's Revolutionary Guard has launched annual naval, air and ground exercises in the Persian Gulf region, and a senior Iranian official said it would show off a new high-speed gunboat. Pentagon spokesman called the three-day exercises "somewhat routine," and predicted they will not impact U.S. naval operations in the area.
Iranian state television showed what it said was the new boat speeding across the Gulf and firing at a target. Smaller boats were shown firing at a ship and then troops boarded the vessel. The elite Revolutionary Guard has conducted such exercises every year since 2006, but usually during the summer rather than the spring.
The exercises occur during heightened tension between the international community and Iran over its nuclear program, which Tehran says is for peaceful purposes. U.S. and other Western officials say the program is aimed at building a nuclear weapon and are calling for a new sanctions resolution at the U.N. Security Council.
Iran has accused the United States of threatening to attack it with nuclear weapons after U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said early this month that "all options are on the table" for dealing with states like Iran that violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
But Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman played down the significance of the Iranian exercise. "We are monitoring that exercise, but it appears to be a somewhat routine naval exercise on their part," he said. "The U.S. Navy operates in that region, as well as many other countries. And our intentions and our operations are well known. And we are not anticipating any issues with navies in the region operating in that area."
The United States has many ships in the Gulf and a major base in Bahrain. Its vessels frequently transit the Straits of Hormuz, near the Iranian exercise area. In the past, Iran has threatened to block the Straits if it is attacked, potentially affecting nearly 40 percent of the world's oil supply.
U.S. officials acknowledge Iran could do that, but say any such move would be brief, with superior U.S. and allied naval power able to break any such blockade quickly.