Image: Adm. Habibollah Sayyari points at a map during a news conference
Fars News  /  Reuters
Iranian Adm. Habibollah Sayyari points at a map during a news conference in Tehran on Thursday. He said the maneuvers will be held in a 1,250-mile stretch of sea off the southern edge of the Arabian Peninsula and into the Gulf of Aden, near the entrance to the Red Sea.
msnbc.com news services
updated 12/22/2011 11:06:32 AM ET 2011-12-22T16:06:32

Iran's navy chief said Thursday his forces plan to hold a 10-day drill in international waters beyond the strategic Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, an exercise that could bring Iranian ships into proximity with U.S. Navy vessels.

The drill will be Iran's latest show of strength in the face of mounting international criticism over its controversial nuclear program, which the West fears is aimed at producing atomic weapons — charges that Tehran denies, insisting the program is for peaceful purposes only.

The Strait of Hormuz is of strategic significance as the passageway for about a third of the world's oil tanker traffic. Beyond it lie vast bodies of water, including the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet is also active in the area, as are warships of several other countries that patrol for pirates there.

"The maneuvres will be carried out with the intention of displaying the determination, defensive and deterrent power of the Iranian armed forces as well as relaying a message of peace and friendship in the Strait of Hormuz, the Sea of Oman and the free waters of the Indian Ocean," Adm. Habibollah Sayyari said.

Russia seizes Iran-bound radioactive material

Both the U.S. and Israel have not ruled out a military option against Iran over its nuclear program, while Iranian hard-liners have come out with occasional threats that Tehran would seal off the key waterway if the U.S. or Israel moved against the country's nuclear facilities.

Sayyari told Iranian state TV that the maneuvers, dubbed Velayat-90, will begin on Saturday. "Velayat" is Persian for "supremacy".

He said they will be held in a 1,250-mile stretch of sea off the southern edge of the Arabian Peninsula and into the Gulf of Aden, near the entrance to the Red Sea.

Iran regularly holds war games and has also been active in fighting piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

Sayyari denied an Iranian media report from last week that the drill would close the Strait of Hormuz. "There has been no decision yet on this," he was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

However, he stressed that Iran's navy and the Revolutionary Guard have the capability to close the strait but that "any decision on this will have to come from the leader," referring to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Sayyari said Iranian navy would use submarines, warships, missiles and torpedoes as well as unmanned planes during the drill but that it would take place "within the framework of international norms."

Story: Iran TV shows suspected US spy 'confessing'

Some analysts and diplomats believe the Islamic Republic could try to block the Strait of Hormuz in the event of any war with the West over suspicions it is seeking atom bombs. Iran's arch-foes Israel and the United States have not ruled out military action if diplomacy and sanctions fail to rein in Iran's nuclear work.

Military experts say Iran's armed forces could not match U.S. military technology but could still cause havoc in shipping lanes, particularly using small craft for hit-and-run attacks.

To ease international pressure, Iran has invited a team of senior U.N. nuclear officials to visit the Islamic state in January to discuss global concerns about the country's nuclear aspirations. Such visits in the past by senior IAEA officials have failed to resolve the long-running nuclear row.

Tehran has been hit by U.N., U.S. and European sanctions since 2006 for refusing to halt its sensitive nuclear work.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: In post-US Iraq, a growing Iranian threat

  1. Transcript of: In post-US Iraq, a growing Iranian threat

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: So much has changed, of course, as a result of the almost nine-yearlong war in Iraq . One big change is this, while the Iraq of Saddam Hussein is gone into that regional vacuum now comes Iran , a neighboring nation, an enemy of the United States . Our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel , who of course covered the Iraq War for close to a decade, tonight has gone back to examine the Iran connection.

    RICHARD ENGEL reporting: To see what's changed in Iraq since the American war , just visit Baghdad 's holy shrine of Kadhimiya . It's an ancient Shiite mosque for prayer and meditation. Some worshipers are overwhelmed to tears. For Shiites this is all new. Shiite Muslims, the majority in Iraq , were oppressed by Saddam Hussein 's ruling Sunni minority, but the democracy America brought has turned the tables. Shiites are now in power here, and it shows. Kadhimiya has just undergone a $400 million renovation. Two hundred pounds of pure gold laid on each dome. But the biggest change for Iraq may be closer ties with its Shiite neighbor, Iran . These days, Kadhimiya is full of Iranian tour groups who come with their own guides with signs in Farsi . Under Saddam , no Iranians came to Iraq . Saddam was Iran 's enemy. Today more than two million Iranians visit Iraq every year. Iraq 's new dynamic is on display here every day. After nearly nine years, it's Iraq 's Shiites who have benefited the most. They have won this country. The United States toppled a dictator who's been replaced by a Shiite government with close ties to Iran . It's hard to imagine how that was ever part of the plan. Across town at Baghdad 's famous book market, Karim Hanoush , himself a Shiite, doesn't want US troops to leave.

    Mr. KARIM HANOUSH:

    ENGEL: He says Iran has calculated all this very well. They want a Shiite Iraq so they can control the assets, economy and politics. Fear of Iran 's growing power is sharper still in the Sunni stronghold of Fallujah . Once Iraq 's deadliest war zone , Fallujah remains violent. A bomb killed three policemen here just after we arrived. Police say Sunni radicals killed them because they work for the Shiite government. Compared to other parts of Iraq , there's been little development in Sunni towns like Fallujah . This building was destroyed by US forces seven years ago and still looks like this. People here accuse the government of persecuting them, ignoring them, trying to cut Sunnis out of the new Iraq .

    Unidentified Man #1:

    ENGEL: A cloth merchant told me, 'You crossed thousands of miles from America . Why? If you want the oil, take the oil. If you want our money, take it. But you have destroyed life, the whole system.' US troops are ending their war in Iraq but this country is still at war with itself. Richard Engel , NBC News, Baghdad .

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments