TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard fired a missile from a helicopter targeting a replica aircraft carrier in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, state television reported on Tuesday, an exercise aimed at threatening the U.S. amid tensions between Tehran and Washington.
The drill, in a waterway through which 20 percent of all traded oil passes, underlines the lingering threat of military conflict between Iran and the U.S. after last summer saw a series of incidents targeting oil tankers in the region. In January, a U.S. drone strike killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad and Tehran responded by firing ballistic missiles targeting American forces in Iraq.
While the coronavirus pandemic has engulfed both Iran and the U.S. for months, there have been increasing signs of a confrontation as America argues to extend a yearslong U.N. weapons embargo on Tehran that is due to expire in October. A recent incident over Syria involving an American jet fighter approaching an Iranian passenger plane also has renewed tensions.
Iranian commandos fast-roped down from a helicopter onto the replica in the footage aired Tuesday from the exercise called “Great Prophet 14.” Other footage showed fast boats encircling the mock-up, kicking up white waves in their wake.
Iranian troops also fired anti-aircraft batteries at a drone target in the exercise from a location that state television described as being near the port city of Bandar Abbas. Troops also fired missiles launched from trucks on land and fast boats at sea, as well as shoulder-fired missiles.
The U.S. Navy warned Tuesday it will take "lawful defensive measures" against vessels in the Mideast that come within 100 meters (yards) of its warships, offering specific guidelines after a recent close encounter with Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf.
The Guard will use “long-range ballistic missiles with the ability to hit far-reaching aggressor floating targets” during the drill, said Abbas Nilforoushan, the Guard’s deputy commander for operations, according to Guard website sepahnews.com. That suggests the drill could see a repeat of what happened in 2015, when the Guard mock-sunk a replica.
It wasn't immediately clear if all the footage was from Tuesday, as one overhead surveillance image that appeared to be shot by a drone bore Monday's date.
The replica resembles the Nimitz-class carriers that the U.S. Navy routinely sails into the Persian Gulf from the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the waterway. The aircraft carrier Nimitz, the namesake of the class, just entered Mideast waters late last week from the Indian Ocean, likely to replace the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Arabian Sea.
It remains unclear when or if the Nimitz will pass through the Strait of Hormuz or not during its time in the Mideast. The aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, deployed last year as tensions initially spiked, spent months in the Arabian Sea before heading through the strait. The Eisenhower came through the strait early last week.
The U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, a spokeswoman said on Monday the Navy remains “confident in our naval forces’ ability to defend themselves against any maritime threat” after satellite photos showed the fake carrier being moved into place.
“We cannot speak to what Iran hopes to gain by building this mockup, or what tactical value they would hope to gain by using such a mock-up in a training or exercise scenario,” Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich told The Associated Press then. “We do not seek conflict, but remain ready to defend U.S. forces and interests from maritime threats in the region.”
Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press journalist Mohammad Nasiri in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.