Iran showcases new ships and holds provocative missile drills in Gulf of Oman

Naval exercises follow tensions with South Korea after the seizure of the Hankuk Chemi tanker

Iran’s navy began a short-range missile drill in the Gulf of Oman on Wednesday and inaugurated its largest military vessel, state TV reported, amid heightened tensions over Tehran’s nuclear programme and a US pressure campaign against the Islamic republic.

The two-day missile drill was held in the gulf's south-eastern waters and two new Iranian-made warships joined the exercise: The missile-launching Zereh, or "armour", and the country's largest military ship the Makran, named after a coastal region in southern Iran, a logistics vessel with a helicopter pad.

President Donald Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the US from Iran’s nuclear deal, in which Tehran had agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Mr Trump cited Iran’s ballistic missile programme among other issues in withdrawing from the accord.

When the US then increased sanctions, Iran gradually and publicly abandoned the deal’s limits on its nuclear development as a series of escalating incidents pushed the two countries to the brink of war at the beginning of this year.

In recent weeks, Iran increased its military drills. On Saturday, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) held a naval parade in the Arabian Gulf, and a week earlier Iran held a hug drone manoeuvre across half the country.

epa08934302 A handout photo made available by the Iranian Army press office shows Iran-made warship Makran prior to joining a navy military drill in the Gulf of Oman, 13 January 2021. Media reported that Iran's navy began a short-range missile drill in the Gulf of Oman with two new Iranian-made warships joining the exercise, the missile-launching Zereh and Makran, a logistics vessel with a helicopter pad.  EPA/IRANIAN ARMY HANDOUT  HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

Iran on occasion announces military achievements that cannot be independently verified. The country began a military self-sufficiency programme in 1992 under which Tehran says it produces everything from mortars to fighter jets.

State television said the 121,000-metric tonne Makran is Iran's largest military ship at 228 metres in length, 42 metres wide and 21.5 metres tall. The Makran, a logistics ship that supports combat ships in the fleet, can travel for nearly three years without docking and carries information collection and processing gear, according to the Revolutionary Guard.

Video footage released by the military showed helicopters carrying commandos to the Makran as part of the exercise.

Last week, Iran seized a South Korean oil tanker and its crew members in the Gulf, and continues to hold the vessel at an Iranian port. The Islamic republic is apparently trying to increase its leverage over Seoul, ahead of negotiations over billions of dollars in Iranian assets frozen in South Korean banks tied to US sanctions against Iran.

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of having secret ties with the militant Al Qaeda network and imposed new sanctions on several senior Iranian officials. Iran denied the accusation.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday said in a televised speech during a Cabinet meeting that US sanctions will fail. “We are witnessing the failure of a policy, the maximum pressure campaign, economic terrorism,” he said.