Iran, China and Russia Friday began a joint naval exercise in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman, in what is being seen as a response to recent US manoeuvers in the region.
The four-day exercise has been launched from the port city of Chabahar in southeastern Iran, AP reported. The Chabahar port, which is near Iran’s border with Pakistan, was built with Indian assistance and is operated by India.
Why is the Iran-China-Russia naval exercise significant?
The Gulf of Oman, where the exercise is being held, is a critical waterway as it connects the Arabian Sea to the Strait of Hormuz, a 33-km wide passage which opens into the Persian Gulf — located between energy producers Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman (the exclave of Musandam), and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
A fifth of the world’s oil passes through this waterway — around 30% of all sea-borne crude oil globally.
Since 2019, it has been a focal point of global tensions. In May and June, several international merchant vessels were attacked by unidentified assailants. The US blamed Iran for the attacks, a charge that Tehran denied. In July, Iran detained a British oil vessel, the Stena Impero, for two months, believed to be in retaliation for an Iranian oil carrier that British authorities detained at Gibraltar earlier in the same month.
Tensions rapidly escalated in September, when the US accused Iran of carrying out drone attacks on oil fields in Saudi Arabia. The attacks had immediately reduced Saudi Arabia’s oil production by half (5% of global oil production), until the affected facilities returned to full capacity by the end of the month. Iran denied the allegations, and the responsibility was claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
Since the attack, the US sent a number of its troops to the region, and provided Saudi Arabia with missile defence systems.
Under President Trump, Washington last year withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Tehran. The US has since pushed for Iranian energy sales to be cut off, crippling Iran’s economy.
The three-nation drill is expected to further provoke Washington. A guided missile destroyer from China, and a frigate, tanker and rescue tug boat from Russia would be taking part, Reuters reported. Moscow has called it an unprecedented exercise in naval cooperation and training.