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Naval exercise raises tensions in Strait of Hormuz

US attempts to play down significance of show of force in the Arabian Gulf

Western forces launched one of the biggest naval military exercises in history in the volatile Strait of Hormuz this week amidst claims Israel is preparing a military strike on Iran.

Naval forces from 25 countries are involved in the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX), which is being led by the Bahrain-based US Fifth Fleet.

The exercise, which is designed to counter Iranian threats to mine and close the Strait of Hormuz in the case of broader military action by Israel or the US, will conclude on 28 September.

One of the world’s most important shipping lanes, the Strait currently accommodates around 35 per cent of global oil exports annually.

In response to the naval build-up, Iran has revealed plans to stage one of the largest military exercises in its history in October, further inflaming tensions between the Islamic Republic and the West.

Despite the sabre rattling from both sides, a spokesman for the US Fifth Fleet attempted to play down the significance of IMCMEX, noting that the manoeuvres had been planned since earlier this year.

“This exercise is not being conducted in response to any one particular threat or a specific situation,” Lt. Greg Raelson told Al Arabiya English.

Meanwhile, reports in Israel claim the conservative Likud government led by Benjamin Netanyahu is assessing the possibility of a late-Autumn air strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Israel launched a snap military exercise on the Golan Heights at the time of press, a move interpreted by many as indication the country was advancing its preparations for war.

Iran has repeatedly threatened to attack US interests in the Gulf in retaliation to any strike launched by Israel against its nuclear facilities, raising the spectre of a broader conflict involving Iran’s southern neighbours.