Iran fires missiles at mock U.S. Navy ship in drill, U.S. bases go on alert

Iran’s refurbished mockup aircraft carrier, used previously as a simulated U.S. target during a February, 2015 Iranian naval war games exercise, is seen at its home port of Bandar Abbas, Iran February 15, 2020.

MAXAR | via Reuters

Iran launched underground ballistic missiles at a mock U.S. Navy vessel in the Strait of Hormuz on Wednesday morning, according to state TV, following a series of drills that had prompted two nearby U.S. military bases to go on heightened alert the previous day. 

“Using new tactics and equipment, the IRGC Air Force demonstrated some of its extensive capabilities in the face of hypothetical enemy threats,” Iranian state TV network IRIB wrote on its website. 

An important achievement of the IRGC’s airspace at this stage of the exercise, the successful firing of ballistic missiles from the depths of the ground was completely camouflaged, which could pose serious challenges to the enemy intelligence agencies,” the website wrote. 

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have been displaying their military capabilities in drills this week, as part of annual war games held in the Strait of Hormuz, a critical waterway through which 30% of the world’s seaborne oil is shipped. Regional television channels showed a mock-up U.S. aircraft carrier in the Strait, complete with model planes on its deck, being blown up by missiles. 

Iranian forces have used fake American vessels before in their military exercises. In recent months, U.S. forces have accused Iranian fast-attack boats of conducting “harassing” approaches on U.S. warships. Tehran staunchly opposes any U.S. military presence in the Middle East. 

The drills on Tuesday led two of the region’s American military bases — Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates and Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar — to temporarily go on heightened alert, after which U.S. military officials called the exercises “reckless” and “irresponsible.” 

 “The incident lasted for a matter of minutes, and an all clear was declared after the threat indicator had passed,” U.S. Central Command said in a statement Tuesday quoted by Reuters.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet, Commander Rebecca Rebarich, said that U.S. forces were “always watchful of this type of irresponsible and reckless behavior by Iran in the vicinity of busy international waterways.” But she added that “this exercise has not disrupted coalition operations in the area nor had any impacts to the free flow of commerce in the Strait of Hormuz and surrounding waters.”

The demonstrations come amid high U.S.-Iran tensions and more than two years after the Donald Trump administration withdrew from the multilateral 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, subsequently reimposing severe sanctions on the country. The last two years have been marked by a series of confrontations, including acts of sabotage on international tankers in the Gulf that Washington blames on Iran but Tehran denies, and the U.S. killing of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani. 

Semiofficial news agency Tasnim published a tweet late Tuesday night with the graphic of the fake U.S. carrier in the sea but shaped as a coffin. “The Islamic Republic of Iran will never forget the assassination of Martyr Soleimani and will definitely strike back at the Americans,” it read. 

Trump tweeted in late April, “I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.”

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