Saturday, March 18, 2006

U.S. in exercise battle with Iran for control of Gulf

World Tribune:
The United States is planning a major naval exercise in May to test its response to any Iranian naval blockade of the Straits of Hormuz. Iran has been conducting exercises aimed at blocking Gulf shipping.

Officials said the exercise would replicate an Iranian effort to mine the straits and send boats packed with explosives into U.S. warships.

The Straits of Hormuz channels 20 percent of global oil production. About 15 million barrels of oil per day are shipped through a waterway about three kilometers wide.

"We believe this would be the leading method of an Iranian attack against Western shipping," an official said.

Officials said Iran has been training to quickly block the straits in an effort to torpedo the world oil market. In late 2005, Iran was said to have conducted an air and naval exercise to test plans to halt Gulf shipping. READ MORE

The U.S. naval exercise, entitled Arabian Gauntlet, has been scheduled for May 2006. Officials said the exercise would be held with Western states and expected to include at least one navy from the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The Iranian opposition said Teheran has established an underground emergency command center to direct a naval blockade of the straits. The National Council of Resistance of Iran said the command center has been linked to government ministries and security forces by a series of tunnels.

"Iran's leaders are clearly preparing for a confrontation by going underground," Alireza Jafarzadeh, a leading Iranian opposition figure, said.

Officials said the Iranians have drafted plans to send a swarm of fast attack craft to blow up U.S. warships. They said the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps's navy has already conducted such an exercise.

Another Iranian option, officials said, was the use of cruise and ballistic missiles against Arab oil facilities in the region. They said that over the last year, the IRGC has drafted plans to deploy new weapons designed to strike naval and ground targets throughout the Gulf.

"When these systems become fully operational, they will significantly enhance Iran's defensive capabilities and ability to deny access to the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz," Defence Intelligence Agency director Michael Maples told the Senate Armed Services Committee in February.