The arrival of US aircraft career USS John C. Stennis into the Persian Gulf on Friday December 21, coincided with the launch of an Iranian military exercise codenamed Great Prophet.
It is hard to say whether Iran knew beforehand about the arrival of the US warship, but it is easy to understand that Iranians wanted to impress U.S. troops in the region.
International news agencies observed that the arrival of the USS John C. Stennis came amid repeated threats by Iranian officials to close off the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the gulf and the only outlet through which all ship traffic passes.
The U.S. aircraft was the first to enter the Persian Gulf since the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran in May, and the Iranian military exercise was the first of its kind to be labelled by Iranian authorities as an "offensive drill".
Possibly emboldened by the news of a probable withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels followed the carrier and its strike group as it arrived. There were also sightings of a drone, as well as rockets being test fired away from the U.S. ships, as Iranian troops were observed photographing the US ship.
In a May 2015 interview deputy IRGC commander Hossein Salami talked about “reverse engineering of RQ170 drones and high-flying, radar-evading drones” being part of the IRGC’s capabilities.
However, according to military analysts in the region, Iran has manufactured low-profile drones such as Shahed 129, but its access to radar-evasion technology similar to that of RQ170 is debatable and unreliable. Furthermore, there is no evidence to support Iran’s access to stealth technology currently available only to the United States, Russia, and China.
A video posted on twitter by one of the editors of IRGC-linked news agency Tasnim, showcases a glorified bunch of no-doubt well-maintained, at least 50-year old military hardware, as well as frogmen and amphibious troops and old tanks hardly capable to take on a U.S. warship.
Possibly in order to further spice up the news of the Iranian military exercise, the same reporter tweeted that the military forces of the United Arab Emirates have declared a state of alert following the launch of the Iranian military exercise.
However, the pictures and videos published by this and other reporters do not corroborate Iran's declaration of a change in its military tactics which includes a shift from "defensive" to "offensive" manoeuvres.
The two military events also coincided with Yalda, the Iranian celebration of the first day of winter and the longest night of the year, which is widely celebrated in Iran. Iranian social media users were surprised and deeply impressed by a felicitation card posted on the official Twitter account of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).
Iran has now and again threatened to close the strategic strait of Hormuz and prevent the flow of oil to international markets from the littoral countries in case its interests in the region are threatened.
President Hassan Rouhani also said recently in a statement unlikely to be made by a head of state familiar with geography that "If Iran cannot export oil via the Strait of Hormuz, no one else can either."
The threat obviously ignores the fact that the strait is currently Iran's only outlet to international markets and it would be foolish to close it unless Tehran is adamant to shoot itself in the foot.
Meanwhile, in terms of the balance of military power, Iran is unlikely to be able to confront international forces in the region. An analysis on Radio Farda's Persian website by military analyst Hossein Aryan observed that "simplistic statements by IRGC commanders ignore the fact that there are some 35,000 U.S. military personnel and seven major U.S. military bases, including the fifth fleet base in Bahrain."
Aryan added that "there are also U.S. bases in Afghanistan and Djibouti as well as a UK naval base in Bahrain and French bases in the UAE and Abu Dhabi."
The United States also has an aircraft carrier in the region to thwart possible threats, the military analyst said.