Iran’s naval drill ‘show of strength’ to US: Analysts

Anadolu Agency | Syed Zafar Mehdi: Naval drill between Iran, Russia, China is the first since 1979 revolution

TEHRAN

Iran is preparing to hold a joint naval exercise with China and Russia in the Indian Ocean, the first of its kind since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The date of the drill has not been yet announced, but sources expect that the exercise will be held on Dec. 27 in the northern Indian Ocean and Oman Sea.

Although Beijing and Moscow have not publicly commented on the drill, cooperation between the three countries on making these naval drills a regular affair has been on agenda for a long time.

Observers see the exercise, dubbed “Marine Security Belt”, as a message by Iran to the U.S. amid tension between Tehran and Washington over its nuclear program.

Analysts cite a series of recent events in the Persian Gulf for increasing tension between Iran and the U.S.

“The seizure of tankers [by UK and Iran], smuggling of oil and downing of a [U.S.] military drone all pushed the region to a tipping point where military confrontation seemed imminent,” Mohammad Jafari, a strategic affairs analyst, told Anadolu Agency.

“We can expect anything anytime. These are troubled waters.”

Military action

Analysts believe that the possibility of the U.S. resorting to military action against Iran has grown after drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities in September.

Although Yemen’s Houthi rebel group has claimed the attacks, Riyadh and Washington have pointed the finger at Iran.

While rejecting the accusations, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards warned of an “all-out war” if the U.S. or Saudi Arabia considered any military action against Tehran.

Iran, says Jafari, does not want to be caught off-guard.

“To prepare for any eventuality, it is important that the Persian Gulf waters are secured, and that’s exactly what Iran, with the help of its allies, is doing,” he said.

Although the naval drill has been under discussion for a while, the three countries have timed it impeccably, in response to the U.S. administration’s “maximum pressure” policy against Iran.

The U.S. recently formed an international maritime coalition, also joined by Australia, UK, UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, in a bid to mount pressure on Iran.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in response, flouted the idea of a regional peace plan, urging all countries along the Strait of Hormuz, as well as China and Russia, to join it.

His outspoken Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the naval drill should not be viewed as a “display of hostility” to any other country but as an exercise to ensure safe waters.

Show of strength

The participation of China and Russia in the naval drill is significant given that Moscow has been Tehran’s all-weather strategic ally, while Beijing is the largest buyer of Iranian oil.

Whether the drill is a show of support by Russia and China for Iran in the event of a military escalation or a normal military exchange between the three allies, it is a matter of intense speculation at the moment.

Ali Ahmadi, a geopolitical analyst focusing on Iran-U.S. relations, said coordination among Asian and Eurasian countries has tremendous potential for positive security gains in the region.

“It doesn’t challenge U.S. hegemony worldwide. But right now, it limits America’s strategic options and capabilities in most of Asia and northern Africa,” he said.

“China, Russia and Iran have many commonalities on interests but they need a deeper dialogue to consolidate their relationship into a real strategic alliance,” he said.

Mani Mehrabi, an international affairs analyst, calls the drill a “show of strength” by Iran and its allies in the wake of naval tension between Iran and UK, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

“Iran is changing its military defense tactic and wants to send a message to the West that its maritime defense borders are expanding, which is why the Persian Gulf region has not been chosen for the exercise,” he said.

Although he refrains from predicting a direct confrontation between the two sides, he says it poses threat to the whole region.