Iran is preparing to soon begin a massive military exercise in the Persian Gulf that could demonstrate Tehran’s ability to shut down the Strait of Hormuz.
Iran recently threatened to block the strait, which is a key passageway for Middle East oil tankers going from the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea.
“We are aware of the increase in Iranian naval operations within the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman,” said Navy Captain Bill Urban, the chief spokesman at Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East.
“We are monitoring it closely, and will continue to work with our partners to ensure freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce in international waterways.”
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps could begin the drill within the next 48 hours, CNN reported.
Unidentified U.S. officials told the Reuters news agency that Iran has so far assembled a fleet of more than 100 vessels for the exercises. CNN reported that it is expected that Iranian air and ground forces, including defensive missile batteries, could be involved in the drill.
Tensions between Iran and the United States have been rising since May when U.S. President Donald Trump announced he was withdrawing from the nuclear deal signed by Tehran and major world powers to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned Iran against shutting down the Strait of Hormuz, saying that would amount to an attack on international shipping, which he said would provoke “an international response to reopen the shipping lanes with whatever it took.”