May 6, 2010 / 5:57 AM / 9 years ago

Iran holds war games in Gulf amid nuclear tension

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran began new naval war games in the Gulf on Thursday to show the Islamic state’s “power to defend” itself against any attack, state television reported.

It was the second such display of military might in less than a month.

The maneuvers by Iran’s regular navy, due to last eight days in the waterway crucial for global oil supplies, coincided with rising tension in Tehran’s long-running nuclear dispute with Western powers.

The United States is lobbying U.N. Security Council members to back a fourth round of sanctions on Iran, to press it into curbing sensitive atomic work the West suspects is aimed at making bombs. Iran denies the charge.

The United States and Israel, Iran’s arch foes, have not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to resolve the row.

Iran, a predominantly Shi’ite Muslim state, has said it would respond to any attack by targeting U.S. interests in the region and Israel, as well as closing the Strait of Hormuz.

The naval war games, which will cover an area also including the Gulf of Oman, originally had been due to start on Wednesday. It was not immediately clear why they were delayed by a day.

Navy commander Habibollah Sayari said the aim was to display Iran’s “power to defend its territory,” state television reported.

Late last month, Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards staged four days of maneuvers in the Gulf and Strait of Hormuz, testing missiles and a new speedboat capable of destroying enemy ships, official Iranian media reported.

Iran often announces advances in its military capabilities and tests weaponry in an apparent attempt to show its readiness for any strikes by Israel or the United States.

Earlier this week, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that Iran was challenging U.S. naval power in the Middle East with an array of offensive and defensive weapons.

Reporting by Parisa Hafezi; writing by Fredrik Dahl; editing by Michael Roddy

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