Iran Launches "Massive" War Games As Tensions With Arab Neighbors Escalate

Iran launched on Friday what international media outlets are describing as a "massive" six-day military exercise in the Strait of Hormuz. The exercises appear aimed both at demonstrating Tehran's military capabilities in general, and saber-rattling specifically in the context of rising tensions between Iran and its Arab neighbors.

Iranian naval commander Habibollah Sayyari outlined the scope of the drills earlier in the week, describing them as tests of the Iranian navy's missile systems, surface combat ships, and submarines, as well as of patrol and reconnaissance methods. Iran held a similar 10-day exercise in January 2011.

The drills come as the six Arab states comprising the Gulf Cooperation Council issued a joint communique blasting "continuing Iranian interference" in their internal affairs and calling attention to opaque elements of Tehran's atomic program, broadly suspected of including a weaponization component. The GCC statement accused Iran of fomenting unrest among Shiite populations in Gulf states and criticized Tehran for pressing territorial claims on territories the Arab nations consider their own.

Iran's Arab neighbors have long expressed grave concerns about Tehran's pursuit of weapons-related nuclear technology, echoing the warnings of Western diplomats to the effect that nuclear weapon acquisition will give Iran immunity to seize territory it claims for itself, which includes the entire nation of Bahrain. A top Bahrainian official described the situation as one in which "politically, (there is) lots of meddling in the affairs of GCC states; an environmental threat to our region from the technology used inside nuclear facilities; and there is of course the looming nuclear program."

In July 2010, the UAE's ambassador to the United States publicly made the case that the benefits of bombing Iran's nuclear installations outweighed the costs. Leaked cables emerged later that year indicating that Saudi Arabia had privately urged U.S. officials to strike Iran.

With talks between Iran and the P5+1 looming early in the coming year, some Western analysts have late this week asserted that Tehran may be signaling to the West that is it prepared to make concessions. The analysis is in tension with repeated, explicit, and recent statements from across the Iranian political and military echelons.


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