Iran criticised for 'irresponsible and reckless' Gulf drill

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

Iranian forces targeted this replica US aircraft carrier with missiles during a recent military exercise that has been widely regarded as provocative. [Screenshot from a Fars News video]

Iranian forces targeted this replica US aircraft carrier with missiles during a recent military exercise that has been widely regarded as provocative. [Screenshot from a Fars News video]

The US Navy on Tuesday (July 28th) criticised Iran as "irresponsible and reckless" for conducting a military exercise in Gulf waters that included the firing of a missile at a replica aircraft carrier, AFP reported.

Military experts in the region who spoke with Al-Mashareq described the land, air and sea exercises -- dubbed "Prophet Mohammed 14th" -- as "a predictable provocation" and warned of the negative impact on global trade.

The drill was held near the Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping lane for a fifth of global oil output, at a time of heightened tensions between Iran and the US.

"We are aware of the Iranian exercise involving attacking a mock-up of a vessel similar to a motionless aircraft carrier," US 5th Fleet spokeswoman Rebecca Rebarich said Tuesday.

Iranian speedboats take part in a recently concluded military exercise conducted by the IRGC near the Strait of Hormuz. [Screenshot from Fars News video]

Iranian speedboats take part in a recently concluded military exercise conducted by the IRGC near the Strait of Hormuz. [Screenshot from Fars News video]

"While we are always watchful of this type of irresponsible and reckless behaviour by Iran in the vicinity of busy international waterways, this exercise has not disrupted coalition operations in the area," she said.

Opinion was divided as to the impact the drill might have on global commerce.

Rebarich said Iran's actions had not disrupted "the free flow of commerce in the Strait of Hormuz and surrounding waters", while regional experts predicted the increased tensions would take a financial toll.

Replica aircraft carrier bombed

During the drill, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) blasted a mock-up of a US aircraft carrier with missiles, state television said.

Footage broadcast on state television showed IRGC air and naval forces readying for an attack. Speedboats skimmed across the water in formation before ground forces fired cannons and a missile was launched from a helicopter.

The mock-up of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier came into view with rows of dummy fighter jets on either side of its landing strip.

The television then cut to rockets being fired out to sea from the backs of trucks, before showing damage to the hull of the mock-up aircraft carrier.

Another missile fired from a helicopter left a trail of smoke before appearing to smash into the side of the fake warship. Armed forces were then seen rappelling onto the deck of the vessel, before around a dozen speedboats circle around it.

"What was shown today in these exercises, at the level of aerospace and naval forces, was all offensive," IRGC commander Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami told state television.

Inside Iran, a few domestic hardline websites also reported the drill.

Mashregh News said military satellite images from Iran's Nour satellite were referenced, which "helped co-ordinate the exercise in a more precise fashion".

Iran launched its first military satellite, Nour, on April 22nd, which the US alleges is a cover for its development of missiles, even as the Islamic republic asked the international community for funds to help it fight the coronavirus (COVID-19).

'A predictable provocation'

The military exercises were a predictable provocation on the part of the IRGC, which seeks to keep the Gulf in a state of permanent tension by all available means, military experts told Al-Mashareq.

They came as Gulf states and the US are actively working to restore calm and defuse tensions to establish peace and security in the region, they said.

Saudi military expert Mansour al-Shehri noted that the recent manoeuvers in the Strait of Hormuz were "intentionally provocative".

They went beyond being just exercises, he told Al-Mashareq, and can be seen as a direct threat, since the focus was on a mock-up of a US aircraft carrier which was destroyed with guided missiles.

He noted the involvement of the IRGC's so-called "geospatial forces" with the launch of the same short-range missiles the IRGC has been using to threaten and attack the countries of the region, either directly or through its proxies.

The Houthis (Ansarallah) have used them to attack Saudi Arabia, he noted.

Al-Shehri said the units that took part in the exercises -- air and missile forces, speedboats and navy divers -- are the very same units the IRGC is using to provoke the countries of the region, particularly the speedboats.

In mid-April, the US accused the IRGC of using speedboats to harass its warships in the Gulf.

IRGC's 'escalatory actions'

"The IRGC's escalatory actions come as efforts are focused on calming the situation in the Middle East and Gulf," said political researcher Abdul Nabi Bakkar.

They were clearly intended to send a message to the Gulf states and US forces that secure the region's maritime waters, he told Al-Mashareq.

"When Iran conducts [...] exercises in which it destroys targets that represent vessels present to secure the region and the routes of civilian commercial vessels, it signals its deliberate intention to attack them in the future," he said.

Bakkar said the IRGC's military exercises in the Strait of Hormuz sparked tensions that will have a moderate and long-term impact on the global economy.

They will significantly disrupt global commercial navigation, he said.

It is likely to push insurance and navigation companies to recalculate the risks in a way that may increase expenses, he added, at a time when global efforts are focused on helping trade recover from the impact of the coronavirus crisis.

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Do not take such news agencies as Tasnim, Fars, and others with different names, as well as the state-run radio and television [IRIB], too seriously. These are not news agencies. They mostly publish their own opinions and those of minorities. These are not very informative and popular. Usually, their job is to put people in the cross-hairs and to do propaganda. However, the situation is no longer the same as it was before. Government propaganda and censorship have failed. These exercises are, for the most part, propaganda. You know what? I am an Iranian, and I'm asking, where are the American planes to come and target these few mullahs? I am willing to be targeted along with them. Of course, when that day comes, these few mullahs, as well as Tasnim and ... are going to hide in seven holes.