TEHRAN Iran began 10 days of naval exercises in the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday, raising concern about a possible closure of the world's most strategic oil transit channel in the event of any outbreak of military conflict between Tehran and the West.
The military drill, dubbed "Velayat-e 90," comes as the tension between the West and Iran is escalating over the Islamic state's nuclear program.
Some analysts and diplomats believe the Islamic Republic could try to block the strait in the event of any war with the West over suspicions it is seeking atom bombs. Iran's arch-foes Israel and the United States have not ruled out military action if diplomacy and sanctions fail to rein in Iran's nuclear work.
Iran says it wants nuclear energy only for peaceful ends.
"The enforcement of the decision to close of the Strait of Hormuz is certainly within Iran's armed forces' capability, but such a decision should be made by the country's top authorities," Iranian Navy commander Habibollah Sayyari was quoted as saying by the semi-official ILNA labor news agency.
Iran has said in the past that it would respond to any attack by targeting U.S. interests in the region and Israel, as well as closing the strait, the only access channel for eight U.S.-aligned, Gulf Arab states to foreign markets.
Iranian authorities have given no indication the strait will be closed during the exercise, and it has not been shut during previous drills.
"Displaying Iran's defensive and deterrent power as well as relaying a message of peace and friendship in the Strait of Hormuz and the free waters are the main objectives of the drill," Sayyari said.
"It will also display the country's power to control the region as well as testing new missiles, torpedoes and weapons."
"Velayat" is a Persian word for "supremacy" and it is currently used as a title of deference for the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The United States, Britain and Canada announced new measures against Iran's energy and financial sectors last month and the European Union is considering a ban - already in place in the United States - on imports of Iranian oil.
(Writing by Ramin Mostafavi; Editing by Alison Williams)