TEHRAN, Iran – Iran began ground military exercises Saturday and defiantly warned that it could cut off oil exports to “hostile” European nations as tensions rise over suggestions that military strikes are an increasing possibility if sanctions fail to rein in the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
Tehran has stepped up its rhetoric as international pressure mounts over allegations that it is seeking to develop atomic weapons, a charge it denies.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued stern warnings against any possible U.S. or Israeli attacks against Tehran’s nuclear facilities. Western forces also have boosted their naval presence in the Gulf led by the American aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.
The new military maneuvers came weeks after Iran rolled out its troops and arsenals in an unprecedented display of military readiness, with 10 days of naval maneuvers that included the first threats to block Gulf oil tankers in early January. Ground forces also were sent on winter war games – against what a Tehran military spokesman called a “hypothetical enemy” – with U.S. forces just over the border in Afghanistan.
Plans for new Iranian naval games in the Persian Gulf off the country’s southern coast have been in the works for weeks.
Iranian state media reported the ground maneuvers of the elite Revolutionary Guard started Saturday near Jiroft, 745 miles south of the capital Tehran. No more details were available, but it appeared that they were small-scale exercises.