Saudi Arabia began naval war games including live fire exercises on Tuesday in the Gulf and Strait of Hormuz, the world's most important oil route, official media reported, a move that coincides with heightened tensions with regional rival Iran.
Warships, speedboats, air navy aircraft, Marine Corps and special security naval units took part, state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said. Live ammunition was fired during activities.
The manoeuvres are aimed at testing combat readiness in preparation for the protection of the marine interests of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against any possible aggression, reported SPA quoting commander of the exercises, Rear Admiral Majed bin Hazza'a Al-Qahtani. The drill is also being conducted in the Sea of Oman.
Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia is concerned by the growing clout in the region of Shia Iran, which has emerged from years of international economic sanctions following a deal over its nuclear programme signed by Tehran and world powers in 2015.
Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition of Muslim countries, backed by the United States, Britain and France, in a war in neighbouring Yemen. The campaign, aimed at restoring a government ousted by an Iran-allied militia, is part of a more assertive effort by Riyadh since last year to counter Iran's influence.
Some 17 million barrels per day (bpd), or about 30% of all seaborne-traded oil, passed through the Strait of Hormuz in 2013, according to the US Energy Information Administration.[caption id="attachment_20184" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Members of Royal Saudi Navy takes part in ÒGulf Shield 1Ó exercise, east of Saudi Arabia, October 4, 2016 Saudi Press Agency[/caption]
Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) warned Saudi naval vessels taking part in military exercises in the Gulf on Wednesday not to get close to Iranian waters, in a sign of heightened tensions between the two regional rivals.
Tehran and Riyadh are fighting several proxy wars in the Middle East, including in Syria and Yemen, but both have been cautious about direct military confrontation.
"The Revolutionary Guards naval forces believe this war game is mainly to create tension and destabilise the Persian Gulf," the IRGC said in a statement published on Tasnim news agency.
The United States, the kingdom's leading non-Arab ally, said in August and September that IRGC vessels "harassed" US warships several times in the Gulf in incidents that Washington described as "unsafe and unprofessional."