US-led military exercises in the Gulf, an Iranian threat to block the Strait of Hormuz and a warning by Israel about Iran’s nuclear program have heightened Gulf tensions. Iran’s claim, then denial, that its military is in civil war-racked Syria, and neighboring Lebanon, added to fears that conflict could consume the whole region.

Navies from more than 30 countries started a minesweeping exercise in the Gulf on 16 September as Iran made its latest Hormuz threats. US defense officials say the deployment is not aimed at Iran, but analysts believe Washington and its allies are sending a message that Tehran does not have the military might for a sustained blockade. On the day the exercises started General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), reiterated that Iran will close the strait if it is attacked. He also suggested that US military bases in the Gulf would be legitimate targets for retaliation. (CONTINUED - 806 WORDS)