Iran's Revolutionary Guards Launch War Games as U.S. Carrier Enters Gulf

Iranian naval vessels, helicopters and drones all participate in exercise on island near Strait of Hormuz; Guards' speedboats fire rockets but U.S. navy says they weren't pointed at American vessels

The USS Mitscher, part of a strike group led by the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier, sails as an Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel shadows it on December 21, 2018.
Jon Gambrell,AP

Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards launched war games in the Gulf on Saturday, state television reported, after a U.S. aircraft carrier entered the waterway amid rising tensions with Washington over reimposed U.S. sanctions.

Television showed amphibious forces landing on Iran's Gulf island of Qeshm during the exercises, in which naval vessels, helicopters, drones, rocket launchers and commando units also took part. 

"Hopefully, with these exercises, our enemies will realize more than ever how devastating our response would be to any move by them," said Guards chief Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, state news agency IRNA reported. 

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Qeshm, the largest island in the Gulf, is located near the Strait of Hormuz through which a third of the world's seaborne oil passes. 

The U.S. aircraft carrier John C. Stennis entered the Gulf on Friday and was shadowed by Revolutionary Guards speedboats. Reuters witnesses also saw an Iranian drone flying nearby. 

A U.S. MH-60 Seahawk helicopter flies over Iranian Revolutionary Guard patrol boats on December 21, 2018.
Jon Gambrell,AP

Guards speedboats fired rockets but a U.S. Navy spokeswoman said they were pointed away from U.S. vessels. 

"We believe it was part of their naval exercise," Lieutenant Chloe Morgan, a spokeswoman for the Bahrain-based U.S. Fifth Fleet, said.

Iranian officials have made apparent threats to disrupt other countries' oil shipments through the Gulf if Washington presses ahead with efforts to halt Iranian oil exports as part of U.S sanctions against Tehran.

 "We certainly strive to support our Gulf allies and let them know that we are going to continue to be committed to this area and to (ensure) equal access to international waters," said Captain Randy Peck, commander of the carrier Stennis. 

In an apparent comment on the arrival of the Stennis, Jafari told state television: "They've come, pretending to ensure the Persian Gulf states' security ... But it is Iran which has to provide security for the Strait of Hormuz, the Persian Gulf and our friends and brotherly countries on its southern coast". 

Iran's regional rival Saudi Arabia welcomed President Donald Trump's decision in May to withdraw the United States from the international nuclear agreement with Iran and to reimpose economic sanctions on Tehran.