Iran to Hold Another Naval Drill Near Strait of Hormuz Next Month

Iranian Defense Minister announces new exercise one day after Israel, U.S. plan major joint drill, and days after the culmination of a 10-day Iranian maneuver in the area.

Iran plans to hold another extensive naval exercise in the Strait of Hormuz in February, Iran's defense minister said on Friday, just days after a 10-day drill ended amid a spat with the U.S. over the crucial waterway.

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Iran exercise Jan. 1, 2012 (AFP)

The Iranian navy carried out drills near the Strait of Hormuz last week after it threatened to block the strait, where some 35 percent of the world's seaborne oil passes, if the West imposed new sanctions over its disputed nuclear program.

The United States on Saturday approved sanctions targeting Iran's oil sector, the government's main source of income, and the European Union will consider similar measures later this month. Iran denies western claims that its nuclear program has a military dimension.

The United States has dismissed a warning by Iran not to return a US aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf. The aircraft carrier USS John C Stennis left the Gulf on December 27 and a Pentagon spokesman said it would return.

Speaking to the Fars news agency on Thursday, Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi referred to the recently culminated drill, saying that "the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps plans to conduct its greatest naval war games in the same region in the near future."

According to a report by Iran's state television Press TV, the drill, the seventh in a series of drills dubbed the "Great Prophet," will take place in February.

The report of another Iranian exercise near the sensitive waterway came after the Israel Defense Forces said it would soon hold a major missile defense exercise with U.S. -forces.

The IDF said the drill with the U.S. was planned long ago and is not tied to recent events.

The drill is called "Austere Challenge 12" and is designed to improve defense systems. No date for the drill was given by the military on Thursday.

Israel has deployed the "Arrow" system, jointly developed and funded with the U.S., designed to intercept Iranian missiles.

The West is adopting new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, charging that Iran is making weapons. Iran insists its program is peaceful. Israel considers Iran a strategic threat because of its nuclear and missile programs.

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