Iran is ready to match any aggression by the US with decisive and firm blows, the commander of the country's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said on Saturday as Iranians marked the first anniversary of the assassination of top general Qassem Suleimani in a US drone strike.
Hossein Salami was speaking during an inspection of troops stationed on occupied Abu Musa island, accompanied by the IRGC Navy commander Rear Admiral Alireza Tangsiri.
"We are here today to evaluate and be assured of our powerful capabilities at sea and against enemies who sometimes boast ... and threaten," Mr Salami said in remarks reported by the IRGC's Sepahnews website.
"We would respond with a reciprocal, decisive and strong blow to whatever action the enemy would take against us."
Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunb islands are located in the Gulf near the entrance to the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of world oil output passes.
The islands were seized by Iran when the UAE was formed in 1971. The Tunbs had historically belonged to Ras Al Khaimah and Abu Musa to Sharjah, when both emirates were still part of the Trucial States.
The UAE has sought to settle the issue of Iran’s illegal occupation through peaceful methods and arbitration. This country has repeatedly pressed the case directly with international organisations and with Iran itself. The UAE enjoys widespread support for its case. Iran has consistently rejected referring the matter to the International Court of Justice.
Tensions have been building up in the run-up to the anniversary of Suleimani's killing in Baghdad on January 3, with two American B-52 bombers recently flying over the region.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday accused outgoing US President Donald Trump of aiming to fabricate a "pretext for war" after Mr Trump blamed Tehran for a rocket strike on the US embassy in Baghdad on December 20.
The US aircraft carrier USS Nimitz has been patrolling Gulf waters since late November, but American media said this week that the acting US defence secretary Christopher Miller had ordered the ship to return home.
The New York Times, quoting US officials, said this move was part of a de-escalatory signal to Tehran to avoid a conflict in Mr Trump's last days in office.
Tension between Washington and Tehran escalated after Mr Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from a landmark nuclear deal with Iran and world powers in 2018 and launched a "maximum pressure" campaign against Tehran, reimposing and reinforcing crippling sanctions.
The two countries have twice come to the brink of war since June, 2019, especially after the killing of Suleimani.
Days after the killing, Iran launched a volley of missiles at Iraqi bases housing US and other coalition troops, with Mr Trump refraining from any further military response.
Rear Adm Tangsiri had last visited the two Tunb islands on December 25 and stressed the need for the troops' "combat-readiness and awareness", according to ISNA news agency.