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Saturday, December 20, 2014  

US warships enter Iran war games zone despite threat
TEHERAN A showdown between Iran and the United States over Teheran’s threats to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf to oil tankers worsened on Thursday when two American warships entered a zone being used by the Iranian navy for war games.

The aircraft carrier USS John C Stennis and the guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay “conducted a pre-planned, routine transit through the strait on Tuesday,” said Fifth Fleet spokeswoman Lieutenant Rebecca Rebarich.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards rejected a warning that the US military would “not tolerate” such a closure, saying they would act decisively “to protect our vital interests.”

Brigadier General Hossein Salami, the deputy commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, told Fars news agency on Thursday that “our response to threats is threats.”

“The Americans are not qualified to give us permission” to carry out military strategy, he said.

Iran’s navy chief, Admiral Habibollah Sayari, said the US aircraft carrier was monitored by Iranian forces. Iranian TV network showed footage of an aircraft carrier being followed by an Iranian plane. An Iranian navy spokesman, Commodore Mahmoud Mousavi, told the Irna news agency the aircraft carrier went “inside the manoeuvre zone” where Iranian ships were conducting their exercises.

Iranian planes and vessels took video and photos of the US ship and the weaponry and aircraft it was carrying, he added.

The US military reported no friction with Iran’s naval forces after Iranian leaders warned of possibly shutting down the vital strait if the west went ahead with more punitive sanctions.

“We are prepared, in accordance with international law, to confront offenders who do not respect our security perimeters during the manoeuvres,” Mousavi was quoted as saying. “We suggest that trans-regional forces completely and seriously take any warning issued by any unit of (Iran’s) naval forces,” he said.

“Our interaction with the regular Iranian Navy continues to be within the standards of maritime practice, well-known, routine and professional,” US Navy spokesman in an email from Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain. The US warships paid a visit to the port of Jebel Ali in the UAE before traveling through the Strait of Hormuz to the Arabian Sea, where the vessels will provide air power for Nato-led forces in Afghanistan, she said.

The US aircraft carrier and cruiser made their through the narrow channel as Iran’s navy was carrying out war games to the east of the strait in a show of military might. Iran is halfway through 10 days of navy exercises in international waters to the east of the strait that have included the laying of mines and the use of aerial drones. Missiles and torpedoes were to be test fired in coming days.

The war games zone covers an area of 2000 sqkm.

So far, Iran and the US have limited themselves to rhetoric and naval manoeuvres. But analysts and oil market traders are watching the developing situation in and around the strait carefully, fearing a spark could ignite open confrontation between the longtime foes.

Agencies
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