Iran prepares to test-fire missiles in key oil waterway

Iran's navy is about to test-fire a variety of missiles in war games in the Strait of Hormuz, a spokesman said Saturday, underlining Tehran's threat to close the strategic oil waterway if new Western sanctions are applied.

Commodore Mahmoud Mousavi told the state television network IRIB: "In the next days, we will test-fire all kinds of surface-to-sea, sea-to-sea and surface-to-air as well as shoulder-launched missiles."

He said in a separate interview with Iran's Press TV that "dummy targets will be towed into the sea today (Saturday) as we prepare for the live-firing of the missile tests."

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He did not say exactly when the launches would start, but explained they would involve tests of "medium- and long-range missiles" to evaluate their operational effectiveness.

One Iranian news agency, Fars, reported early Saturday that the tests of "long-range missiles" fired from shore and ships had already started. It later changed its online story to remove any mention of the tests having already taken place.

The 10 days of navy exercises started December 24 and are due to end on Monday.

Twenty percent of the world's oil moves through the Strait of Hormuz, at the entrance of the Gulf, making it the "most important chokepoint" globally, according to information released Friday by the US Energy Information Administration.

Around 14 crude oil tankers per day pass through the narrow strait, carrying 17 million barrels. In all, 35 percent of all seaborne oil transited through there this year.

Iran has said that "not a drop of oil" would pass through the strait if Western governments follow through with planned additional sanctions over its nuclear programme.

Military chiefs have said it would be "really easy" for them to close the strait.

The United States had called the threats "irrational behaviour" and said closure of the strait "will not be tolerated."

It maintains its own naval presence in the Gulf, with its Fifth Fleet based out of Bahrain.

On Thursday, a US aircraft carrier and an accompanying missile cruiser passed through the zone where the Iranian navy was conducting its drill.

No confrontation occurred, though an Iranian military aircraft flew in close to record video of the aircraft carrier, which was then shown on state television.

Analysts and oil market traders have been watching developments in and around the Strait of Hormuz carefully, fearing that the intensifying war of words between arch foes Tehran and Washington could spark open confrontation.

With tensions simmering, the United States said it has signed a $29.4-billion deal to supply Iran's chief rival in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, with 84 new fighter jets.

The sale was a "strong message" to the Gulf region, Washington said.

by Jailan Zayan © 2011 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: Dec 31, 2011