As political tensions between the U.S. and Iran simmer, the U.S. and four other allied navies on Tuesday kicked off a three-day maritime exercise in international waters abutting the Iranian shoreline.
The United Kingdom-led exercise, Unified Trident, comes on the heels of a White House executive order banning immigration to the U.S. from seven countries, including Iran. In response, the Iranian foreign ministry released a statement saying it would enact a reciprocal ban on American travel to the country, and added that it would "retaliate" against the U.S.
In remarks reported by Iranian new agencies Jan. 30, the head of the Iranian Navy, Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, said he was aware of the upcoming allied exercise and warned against any incursion of the participating ships into Iranian territorial waters.
"We don't care what is said by whom or what they do. For us, it is important to be so ready in our defensive capabilities to stand any threat at anywhere," Mehr News Agency reported that Sayyari said. "Anybody who wishes to stage a war game within the limits of the free waters should follow the international law, and we do not allow anybody to get close to our waters and this is our red line."
U.S. officials said there is no plan to enter Iranian territorial waters, internationally recognized as the region extending 12 nautical miles from a nation's shoreline.
"This exercise is not directed toward any nation, but will demonstrate a combined commitment to an enduring presence and to regional stability," U.S. Naval Forces Central Command spokesman Lt. Rick Chernitzer told Military.com in a statement. "Unified Trident will be conducted in accordance with international maritime laws, standards and norms."
In the past 12 months, the Iranian Navy has provoked U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf in dozens of high-profile harassment incidents, an increase from previous years. Last August, the coastal patrol ship USS Squall fired warning shots at Iranian vessels in one of a series of close encounters with Iranian boats that took place within a week of each other.
During Unified Trident, which also will include participants from the French and Australian navies, a task force of allied ships will be faced with "a number of conventional and unconventional maritime and air threats" to ensure operational readiness and preparation for a variety of deployed military scenarios, according to a U.S. Navy release about the exercise.
The exercise "will span the international waters of the Arabian Gulf, incorporate all forms of maritime operations, reinforce relationships with partners and allies, maintain readiness and improve cooperation to ensure the free flow of commerce," Chernitzer said.