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Iran plans naval drill in strategic Gulf strait

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TEHRAN (AFP): Iran will conduct six days of naval exercise in the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf later this week to demonstrate its "capabilities," its top navy officer has said.

The drills, dubbed "Velayat 91," will cover an area that includes the strait, the Sea of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean, Admiral Habibollah Sayari said on Tuesday in remarks reported by the ISNA news agency.

Warships, submarines and missile defence systems will be used and tested during the exercise scheduled to begin on December 28, he said.

"We will definitely respect the maritime border of our neighbours, and conduct the manoeuvres based on international law," Sayari said.

"Iran aims to demonstrate its defensive naval capabilities by conducting this exercise, and send a message of peace and friendship to regional countries."

Iran frequently conducts missile tests and manoeuvres to underline its military muscle and has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz to oil tanker traffic should it be attacked.

The strait is a narrow channel at the entrance of the Gulf through which a third of the world's traded oil passes.

The United States has warned Iran that any attempt to close the strait would be viewed as a "red line" -- grounds for US military action.

Iran's regular navy, with 17,000 servicemen, is tasked with defending Iranian interests in the Indian Ocean and beyond. Its offshore forces are limited to half a dozen small frigates and destroyers, and three Russian Kilo class submarines.

The naval arm of the elite Revolutionary Guards is tasked with defending Iran's territorial waters in the Gulf.

Iran regularly denounces the regional presence of foreign forces, including the US, particularly those stationed in the Gulf. It says the security of the region must be ensured "by regional countries."

Arab monarchies on the opposite side of the Gulf from Iran are worried by what they see as territorial ambitions by the Islamic republic, which frequently stresses Persia's historic dominance over the waterway.

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