Sami Aboudi and Daniel Fineren
September 17, 2012
(Reuters) – The United States and its allies have launched a major naval exercise in the Gulf that they say shows a global will to keep oil shipping lanes open as Israel and Iran trade threats of war.
Publicly announced in July, the operation, known as IMCMEX-12, focuses on clearing mines that Tehran, or guerrilla groups, might deploy to disrupt tanker traffic, notably in the Strait of Hormuz, between Iran and the Arabian peninsula.
The start of the event, with a symposium for officers from more than 30 navies, came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told U.S. television viewers on Sunday that Tehran was close to being able to build a nuclear bomb; his words fuelled talk of an Israeli strike, and of Netanyahu pressuring President Barack Obama to back Israel as Obama battles for re-election.
Military officials, diplomats and analysts – as well as Iran itself – all sought to play down the significance of the timing and to stress the defensive and hypothetical aspects of the exercise, which moves on to the water from Thursday with ships from a much smaller number of nations taking part in maneuvers.
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