Iranian forces in a military exercise on Qeshm Island in the Persian Gulf, December 22, 2018

Under pressure from US sanctions and a troubled economy, Iran has staged large exercises in the Persian Gulf, boasting about the display of an “offensive” component for the first time.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps carried out the final part of the “Great Prophet 12” drill on Qeshm Island on Saturday. Guards commander Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari proclaimed:

We hope the enemies have more than ever grasped the power of our response.

This was a response to allegations made by the enemies who should know that the defense capabilities of the Islamic Republic of Iran are deterrent, and as the Eminent [Supreme] Leader has said, “If they try to hit us once, they will definitely be hit 10 times more.”

The commander of IRGC Ground Forces, Brig. Gen. Mohammad Pakpour, asserted:

For the first time, the drills incorporate an offensive operation in the Islamic Republic’s defensive doctrine.

On the operational level, these maneuvers are offensive, meaning should the enemy seek to resort to threat and its implementation, it will prompt us to turn thoroughly aggressive and offensive, and pursue targets deep inside the enemy front.

The exercise included the IRGC’s rapid response unit, special forces, commandos, combat and reconnaissance drones, the electronic warfare unit, the engineering corps, fast patrol boats, and attack, transport, and airdrop helicopters.

US Carrier Returns to Persian Gulf

The drills coincided with the return of the US aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis to the Persian Gulf on Friday.

A spokesperson for the Bahrain-based US 5th Fleet said:

We are trying to be more operationally unpredictable. Now we’re switching it up because our adversaries are watching closely. We want to be operationally unpredictable to our enemies, but strategically predictable to our partners.

US officials said IRGC vessels shadowed the Stennis and its strike group, launching rockets away from the warships and flying a drone nearby.

A senior Iranian commander insisted Tehran’s response was lawful.

Rear Adm. Amir Rastegari claimed foreign median reports were “exaggerating” the episode as part of an “Iranophobia campaign”.

Earlier this month Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned that the Persian Gulf could be closed to tankers if US sanctions cut into Iran’s oil exports.