Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) fired a helicopter missile at a replica aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.
The aircraft carrier resembled the Nimitz-class carriers used by American naval forces, potentially inflaming tensions between the two nations. Iran chose a location of grave geostrategic significance to conduct its military exercise—20 percent of the world's oil trade flows through the Strait of Hormuz.
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"Our policies to protect the vital interests of the dear nation of Iran are defensive, in the sense that we will not invade any country from the beginning, but we are completely aggressive in tactics and operations," Gen. Hossein Salami, the IRGC's leader, said. "What was shown today at this exercise at the level of aerospace and naval forces was all offensive."
IRGC operations have long been a thorn in the side of American regional security. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of the IRGC's elite Quds Force, was killed by an American airstrike in January. In 2019, the White House designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization for its role in supporting terror groups such as Hezbollah, Houthi militants, and Hamas.
"The IRGC actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft," the White House said at the time. "The IRGC is the Iranian government's primary means of directing and implementing its global terrorist campaign."
The latest military exercise comes amid tense relations between Iran and the United States. Last week, the Iranian government called a U.S. fighter jet flyby of an Iranian passenger plane a "terrorist act." Throughout June and July, Iranian industrial and military facilities have been hit by a series of mysterious explosions, which many suspect are the design of Israeli and American special forces.
This recent bout of frustration between Washington and Tehran occurs at an inflection point for the two countries, as the United Nations arms embargo on Iran is set to expire in October. The embargo has stopped Iran from acquiring military hardware and vehicles that could be sold to terror groups. American defense officials believe that Russian fighter jets and tanks would be among the first items on Iran's military shopping list.
"If we let [the deal] expire, you can be certain that what Iran has been doing in the dark, it will do in broad daylight and then some," said U.S. special representative for Iran Brian Hook in June.
Accordingly, Washington is holding fast to a maximum pressure strategy on the Islamic Republic. "If we play by Iran's rules, Iran wins," Hook said. Iran engages in "mafia tactic[s] where people are intimidated into accepting a certain kind of behavior for fear of something far worse."