ABU DHABI — 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.
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
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