The United States is closely monitoring preparations for what appears to be either an Iranian exercise, or a show of force in the Strait of Hormuz. US CENTCOM tweeted that it is watching the situation carefully, and the exercise is expected to begin at some point in the next 48 hours. Much of the preparation underway is being conducted by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The IRGC has assembled nearly 100 light, fast attack boats (largely of the Boghammar type, etc) in the waters near the strait. There has been no indication yet if Iranian naval and air forces will take part in the upcoming exercise.
Although US officials do not see any signs of hostile intent at the moment, the timing of the exercise raises concerns. Last week, Houthi attacks on Saudi oil tankers in the Bab Al-Mandeb Strait prompted Saudi Arabia to halt oil shipments in the Red Sea. As if this were not enough, the US and Iran have been engaged in a war of words in recent weeks, with tensions steadily rising. Economic sanctions are set to be placed back in effect against Iran next week as a result of the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.
With all of this in mind, the coming exercise/show of force appears to be nothing short of a warning message to the United States. Tehran wants Washington to be reminded of how easily it can close the Strait of Hormuz, and hold the global economy hostage. Iran’s leadership, already beset by domestic and economic problems at home, wants the Trump administration to take into account the Hormuz factor in its decision with regards to placing economic sanctions on Iran.