As tensions between the United States and Iran escalate after President Donald Trump put Tehran “on notice” for its missile tests, Iran has once again sent shivers down the Indian Ocean’s proverbial spine. The country successfully test-fired its new missiles during the Islamic Republic’s huge naval drills.
Iran’s navy tested its domestically-manufactured new missiles as part of the large-scale drill code-named Velayat 95 in the strategic southern waters. Tehran is testing Washington’s patience once again three weeks after the Trump administration slapped new sanctions on the Islamic Republic following its ballistic missiles launch.
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Iran’s largest war games, stretching across an area of about 2 million square kilometers, are held in the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf of Oman, the Bab el-Mandab and northern parts of the Indian Ocean. An Iranian naval commander insisted that the naval maneuvers are limited to anti-terrorism and anti-piracy training purposes.
As Iranian navy ships, submarines and helicopters are all showcasing their military might as part of the drills, Navy commandos and the strategic Special Operations Brigade are practicing their readiness military skills and defensive capabilities along the country’s southeastern coast.
Iran “playing with fire” with new missile tests
Iran’s biggest naval drills come as the war of words between Tehran and Washington intensifies in the aftermath of the ballistic missile tests less than a month ago. Trump, who throughout his presidential campaign and since assuming office last month has pledged to take a tough stance against Tehran, reacted to the missile tests by saying that Iran was “playing with fire.”
But with Iran’s large-scale military drills involving missile tests in the Gulf and nearby waters, Tehran could literally be “playing with fire” now, considering that the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based in the region and has a mission to protect shipping lanes.
Last month, the two countries engaged in a little military confrontation near the Strait of Hormuz. In January, the U.S. and Iran fueled high-seas tensions after a U.S. Navy destroyer fired warning shots at four Iranian fast-attack vessels when they came in at high speed.
Interestingly, the Iranian vessels belonged to the Revolutionary Guards, but they were not scheduled to participate in Iran’s Velayat 95 naval maneuvers.
Iran warns enemies to expect a “slap in the face”
Earlier this month, Washington slammed Tehran for its ballistic missile tests and said the Islamic Republic “has been put formally put on notice.” A little later, the U.S. imposed new sanctions on Iran targeting 13 people and 12 companies and explained that Tehran’s “continued support for terrorism and development of its ballistic missile program poses a threat to the region.”
Last week, an elite commander from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard slammed the new sanctions and warned Washington to expect “a slap in the face” if it dares to underestimate Iran’s military capabilities. Current tensions between the U.S. and Iran are at the highest level after the two countries reached a long sought-after deal regarding Iran’s nuclear program in the summer of 2015.
In an apparent show of its military capabilities, Tehran fired laser-guided anti-submarine Dehlaviyeh missiles as part of the fifth phase of its naval maneuvers on Monday. Iran’s state media later said the test had been successful. According to reports dating back to 2012, Iran mounted the Dehlaviyeh missiles on a Russia-made anti-tank missile.
Nasir – the latest creation in the family of Iranian cruise missiles – has also been tested during the current drills.
What will U.S. do if Iran is ‘unmoved by threats’?
During the Velayat 95 military drills, Iran successfully tested domestically-built Ra’ad boats, which are equipped with SPG-9 73-millimeter caliber guns, and Azarakhsh boats, which are mounted with 122-millimeter caliber rocket launchers. Additionally, the Islamic Republic premiered its telemedicine medical assistance provision system, which allows Tehran to provide remote medical assistance in battlefields.
For years, Iran has asserted its military proficiency and has been showcasing its military prowess in exercises despite international criticism targeting such drills. The location of the current naval drills is internationally vital, as millions of barrels of oil are transported through the Bab el-Mandab and the Strait of Hormuz to Europe and the U.S. every day.
Just last week, Iran’s foreign minister responded to the renewed hostility coming from the U.S. and said Iran is “unmoved by threats” but “responds well” to respect. Addressing the Munich Security Conference, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran doesn’t respond well to “threats,” nor does it respond well to “coercion.”
“We don’t respond well to sanctions, but we respond very well to mutual respect,” Zarif said. “We respond very well to arrangements to reach mutually acceptable scenarios. Iran is unmoved by threats.”
Is Tehran walking away from the 2015 nuclear deal?
Trump started his presidency with a hostile move towards Iran when he included the Muslim-majority country on his infamous travel ban list, which tried to prevent citizens of seven Muslim countries from entering the U.S. The infamous list fueled tensions between the two countries.
Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly criticized the Iran nuclear deal reached by President Barack Obama in the summer of 2015. Trump previously vowed to dismantle the long sought-after nuclear agreement, which obliged Iran to halt its nuclear program in exchange for lifting economy-crippling international sanctions. However, the new U.S. President has yet to unveil his plans on how exactly he is planning to undo the 2015 deal or if he’s even still interested in doing so.
Undoing the Iran nuclear deal or if the U.S. walks away from it would likely result in Iran restarting its uranium enrichment actions, which would move it closer to developing a nuclear weapon that it could eventually use against its traditional enemy in the region, Israel.
Imposing a new round of sanctions against Iran, meanwhile, would also put a grave strain on Iran-U.S. relations or even prompt Iranian leaders to walk away from the 2015 nuclear deal themselves, explaining that the agreement doesn’t make sense if the U.S. and its allies can continue to slap the Islamic Republic with new sanctions while it agrees to curb its nuclear program. However, numerous reports have suggested that Tehran has violated the nuclear deal on several occasions since the summer of 2015.
Iran warns the world against doing “anything stupid”
Last week, the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Mohammad Pakpour, warned the U.S. to be careful in its assessments of Tehran; otherwise, it could get a “strong slap in the face.”
“The enemy should not be mistaken in its assessments, and it will receive a strong slap in the face if it does make such a mistake,” Gen. Pakpour warned.
The general’s comments came just days after the Revolutionary Guards reported that they had test-fired “advanced rockets” as part of the nation’s three-day drills. Gen. Pakpour explained that the message of the drills was for “world arrogance” to “not to do anything stupid.”
“Everyone could see today what power we have on the ground,” Gen. Pakpour said.
However, the apparent threats and warnings from top Iranian defense officials do not seem to leave an impression on Washington.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, recently urged the White House to impose new sanctions against Iran for its apparent violations of United Nations resolutions and allegedly destabilizing the Middle East. Sen. Graham is confident that the 2015 nuclear deal didn’t stop Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon.
“If they say they haven’t, they’re lying,” he said.
Iran-U.S. tensions can spark major military confrontation
As tensions between the U.S. and Iran are rising, how will the U.S. react to Iran’s new missile tests?
With the Trump administration recently saying phrases like “holding Iran to account,” and warning Tehran against “playing with fire,” could the Islamic Republic’s new provocations result in Washington imposing new sanctions on Tehran? And if so, could the hard-sanction punches eventually lead to Iran walking away from the 2015 nuclear deal? Or does Trump have another plan of action against Iran, which he has repeatedly slammed in his remarks regarding the country’s alleged violations of UN resolutions?
Either way, let’s not forget that the U.S. and Iran are not just two countries with no military contacts whatsoever. They are two countries whose warships come into close proximity in Gulf waters every single day, and last month’s incident when the U.S. Navy destroyer fired warning shots at four Iranian fast-attack vessels is the indication of that.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran could spark a devastating military confrontation between the two nations, and other countries like Israel would likely jump in to engage in war.