At a moment the US struck five supposedly 'Iran-linked' militia bases in Iraq and Syria on Sunday, sending regional tensions soaring, unprecedented four-day long joint naval drills involving Iran, Russia and China outside the Persian Gulf were simultaneously winding down.
Iran used the occasion of being joined by Chinese and Russian warships in the Gulf of Oman and Indian Ocean to declare that US dominance in the Middle East is now over.
"Today, the era of American free action in the region is over," naval commander Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi said. "They must leave the region gradually," he added.
And now Iran has not only said the drills are set to continue annually upon their close on Sunday, but is inviting other countries to join.
Feeling emboldened by the official participation of the Chinese and Russian navies, Adm. Khanzadi further told semi-official Mehr news agency:
We are seeking to achieve collective security, and for that purpose, we are inviting regional countries to join us [in the drills].
From the start, Iranian officials have touted the joint naval drills as sending “a highly significant message” to the US and their allies, especially given the United States has struggled to attract key European allies to join its own 'maritime naval mission' in the gulf to thwart Iran. Instead, Europe has initiated its own mission which leaders have emphasized has nothing to do with the US project.
Adm. Khanzadi continued, “There is no threat facing the Persian Gulf region except for the presence of foreign forces such as the US, which are endangering the security of this region.” He also said Iran is planning future such drills with regional allies in the Caspian Sea. The weekend's joint exercises were the first of their kind, and were conducted across an area of 17,000 square kilometers to demonstrate "various tactical exercises".
Setting off an Iraqi insurgency against U.S. forces just in time for an election year is not the dumb move I thought Trump would make, but that's what seems to be happening— Daniel Larison (@DanielLarison) December 30, 2019
The statements inviting other powers to join Russian and China for next year's exercise come after Tehran charged Washington with committing acts of "terrorism" by its weekend airstrikes on sovereign Iraqi soil.
Russia too condemned the airstrikes as "unacceptable and counterproductive" in a foreign ministry statement on Monday.
Cartoon shared by Iran Navy's Telegram channel amid joint naval drills with Russia and China which started today and will last until Monday pic.twitter.com/dBE9Q7JPX9— Reza Khaasteh (@Khaaasteh) December 27, 2019
And Kataib Hezbollah — which lost at least 24 of its members with scores more wounded in the US airstrikes — urged all Iraqi paramilitary groups to work to expel American forces from Iraq.
“We have no choice but confrontation,” a Kataib Hezbollah statement said. “Trump should know that he will pay a heavy price in Iraq and the countries where his criminal forces are present.”