Naval forces from more than 30 countries were on Monday engaged in a massive minesweeping exercise in the Gulf, US officials said, amid Iranian threats to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
The US-led International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX), the first of its kind in the Middle East, comes amid heightened tensions between Israel and Iran over the Islamic republic's controversial nuclear programme.
The exercise kicked off on Sunday, the same day as the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guards warned of retaliation against the Strait of Hormuz, Israel and nearby US bases if his country is attacked and as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed Tehran is "90 percent" toward having a nuclear bomb...
... the anti-mine manoeuvres are designed to counter Iran's escalating threats to block the strategic straits.
This is "a message to all parties in the region: to the allies and Iran, that the US is ready to defend their common interests, keep the straits and maritime routes open and respond to any attacks against its bases in the region" said Riad Kahwaji, of the Institute for near East and Gulf military analysis in Dubai.
More than 500 ships, 60 percent of which are energy carriers, pass through the Straits every week, a strategic chokepoint that connects the Arabian Gulf, and some of the world's top oil producing nations to the rest of the world.
"This is a vital region where sea lanes and resources and international interests all intersect," said [Lieutenant Greg Raelson of the US Fifth fleet in Bahrain].
"Defending these interests against a sea mine attack is really a core mission of navy mine warfare... and this exercise is an effort to decrease the international threat of mining and to enhance our combined capabilities to provide long-term stability and security."
The anti-mine manoeuvres will last through September 27 and involve more than 30 nations including the United States, Britain, Japan, France, Yemen and Jordan.
Raelson said no manoeuvres "at all" will take place in the actual Strait of Hormuz, adding that a variety of anti-mine techniques will be practised, including "mine-hunting operations, helicopter mine countermeasures operations, dive operations, small boat exercises and international cross platform refuelling training."
General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the head of the Iranian Guards, told a news conference in Tehran on Sunday that the strait would be a legitimate target for Iran should it be attacked.
Jafari also suggested that US military bases -- the two largest in Bahrain and Qatar -- would be fair game for retaliation by Iran or proxy forces.
The US also has several military bases in Kuwait and a military presence in the United Arab Emirates....
From HazardEx, 17 September 2012:
According to the Daily Telegraph, a huge gathering of naval forces in the Gulf could be the opening act in a series of events that could culminate in an Israeli attack on Iran and a naval and aerial war to keep the Straits of Hormuz open. This show of naval force is said to be unprecedented outside of war.
The wargames are designed to counter any Iranian attempt to close the Straits of Hormuz to shipping in the event of an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities.
The Telegraph says that the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle is with the British helicopter carrier Illustrious on exercise in the eastern Mediterranean, and both could race to the Gulf at short notice. The latest Royal Navy destroyer Diamond is already in the Gulf with four minesweepers to take part in the wargames. They will develop tactics on how to breach any Iranian blockade of the straits and practice counter-mining drills.
Russia Today adds that a fourth US carrier strike group, based in Guam in the Pacific, could also be in the Gulf in a relatively short time.
A blockade of the straits could have a catastrophic effect on economies around the world, many of which rely heavily on oil and gas supplies from the Gulf. Every day around 18 million barrels of oil, approximately 35 per cent of the world’s petroleum traded by sea, go through the straits.
Defence sources say that although Iran’s capability may not be technologically sophisticated, it will try to attack NATO and allied vessels using mini-subs, fast attack boats and shore-based anti-ship missiles. An important element of its area-denial strategy will be to lay mines in the shipping lanes used by oil tankers.
Next month, Iran will stage massive military manoeuvres of its own. The exercise is being showcased as the biggest air defence war game in the Islamic Republic’s history, and will be its most visible response yet to the prospect of an Israeli military strike. Using surface-to-air missiles, unmanned drones and state-of-the-art radar, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and air force will combine to test the defences of 3,600 sensitive locations throughout the country, including oil refineries and uranium enrichment facilities.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, on September 17 to discuss the Iranian crisis. Many within the Obama administration believe that Israel will launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities before the US presidential elections in November.
Mr Netanyahu signalled recently that the time for a negotiated settlement had run out. He said: “The world tells Israel 'Wait, there’s still time.’ And I say, 'Wait for what? Wait until when?’ “Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.”
Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps recently said that “Any enemies' plots” would be foiled and a heavy price exacted, adding: “We determine the rules of military conflict in the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz.”
But Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, warned that Iranian attempts to exercise control over the straits would be met with force.
He said: “The Iranians need to understand that the United States and the international community are going to hold them directly responsible for any disruption of shipping in that region.”
Mr Panetta said that the United States was “fully prepared for all contingencies” and added: “We’ve invested in capabilities to ensure that any Iranian attempt to close down shipping in the Gulf is something that we are going to be able to defeat.”