By Mike Mount
The Iranian military says it has successfully test-fired a number of advanced missiles and air defense systems during coastal defense exercises near the strategic oil passageway of the Strait of Hormuz.
Iranian government press reports said its navy launched anti-ship "Qader" cruise missiles and a new "optimized" version of a long-range surface-to-surface missile, called the "Nour" missile. Both models are made in Iran, according to the reports.
The exercises are part of what Iran says is a six-day naval maneuver that started on December 28 and is designed to, "display the country's capabilities in defending its maritime borders."
The country also touted the testing of its indigenously made air defense system called Ra'd, translated as "Thunder," with surface-to-air missiles. The country says it's designed to target fighter jets and cruise missiles as well as helicopters and drones flying as high as 75,000 feet. The new Ra'd system was first paraded out in Tehran last September during a military celebration.
The Iranians said the exercise is one in a number of drills the country holds to "enhance the defensive capabilities of its armed forces and to test modern military tactics and equipment."
Military analyst Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based policy analysis organization, says the tests didn't dramatically advance Iran's weapons technology. But it sends a warning to other nations in the region that could one day offer assistance to any U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.
"In the short term they may actually like the idea of telling us they can escalate, to make us think of this as not just a pinprick surgical strike but the beginning of a war. And they may feel they can intimidate certain participant countries into rethinking whether it's the United States or one of the Gulf states like Qatar, or UAE or Kuwait," O'Hanlon said.
According to the U.S. Navy, one of its aircraft carriers, the USS Stennis, is inside the Persian Gulf close to the Strait of Hormuz, at a port call in the United Arab Emirates.
A spokesman for the U.S. Defense Department said the Pentagon was aware of the exercises and was monitoring them, but would not comment on the specifics of the missiles the Iranian press highlighted.
The exercises come at a time when the United States and the international community is putting increased pressure on Iran as the country continues to push its nuclear program. Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, one of the most strategic waterways in the world for oil exports, if sanctions against it continue.
Both the U.S. and Israel have not ruled out a military strike on an Iranian nuclear facility that they claim is part of a weapons program, but Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.