Iran plans naval exercises in major shipping waterway amidst heated rhetoric

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Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, a critical passageway for oil and natural gas shipments, have further heightened tensions with the United States, increasing the possibility for military escalation.

The development marked Iran's latest escalation in response to Mr. Trump's promise to begin reimposing harsh economic sanctions in the coming days that were suspended under the 2015 deal.

Iran's regional archrival and the largest of the OPEC producers, Saudi Arabia, came to the rescue to "ease consumer anxiety" amid rallying oil prices that threatened to dampen oil demand. The Strait of Hormuz is 34 kilometers (21 miles) at its most narrow point.

Iran appears to be preparing a major military exercise in the Gulf in reaction to escalating tensions with the USA after it withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal and renewed sanctions on the Islamic republic, according to U.S. officials.

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"We are aware of the increase in Iranian naval operations within the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman", said Navy Captain Bill Urban, the chief spokesman at Central Command, which oversees USA forces in the Middle East.

Iran has repeatedly used small fast-attack craft to harass US Navy warships over the past several years. Hundreds of Iranian troops are expected to participate and some regular Iranian forces could be involved as well.

The IRGC has deployed dozens of boats, and the U.S. Navy plans to send additional assets to the region.

President Donald Trump has lately been in a war of words with the leaders of Iran.

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"If the Iranians demonstrate a commitment to make fundamental changes in how they treat their own people, reduce their malign behavior, agree that it's worthwhile to enter into a nuclear agreement that actually prevents proliferation, then the president has said he's prepared to sit down and have a conversation with them", Pompeo said in an interview with CNBC. Mr. Rouhani replaced the head of Iran's central bank last week, a figure many blamed for mishandling the nation's finances.

Details of the Iranian preparations were first reported by CNN. According to a USA official who spoke to Reuters last month, Washington has also launched a media campaign to spur the protests on and undermine the influence of the Iranian leadership, but some familiar with Iranian politics argue that this will have a boomerang effect.

"The world's economy depends on that energy, those energy supplies flowing out of there". Now it should be about 20% of the world's oil exports.

"Even threats and modest disruption to commercial shipping could trigger economic damage in the form of higher marine insurance rates, crude oil supply concerns and unsettled stock markets", Mr. Weitz wrote in an analysis published by Tufts last month.

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