Iran holds missile drill in Gulf of Oman amid tensions

State TV reports that Iran’s navy has begun a short-range missile drill in the Gulf of Oman and inaugurated its largest military vessel amid heightened tensions over the country's nuclear program and a U.S. pressure campaign against the Islamic Republic

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran’s navy began a short-range missile drill in the Gulf of Oman on Wednesday and inaugurated its largest military vessel, state TV reported, amid heightened tensions over Tehran’s nuclear program and a U.S. pressure campaign against the Islamic Republic.

When the U.S. then ramped up sanctions, Iran gradually and publicly abandoned the deal’s limits on its nuclear development as a series of escalating incidents pushed the two countries to the brink of war at the beginning of the year.

In recent weeks, Iran has increased its military drills. On Saturday, the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard held a naval parade in the Persian Gulf and a week earlier Iran held a massive drone maneuver across half the country.

Iran on occasion announces military achievements that cannot be independently verified. The country began a military sufficiency program in 1992 under which Tehran says it produces mortars to fighter jets.

State TV said the 121,000-metric ton Makran is Iran’s largest military ship at 228 meters (748 feet) long, 42 meters (138 feet) wide and 21.5 meters (70 feet) tall. The Makran, a logistics ship that supports combat ships in the fleet, can travel for nearly three years without docking and carries information collection and processing gear.

Video footage released by the military showed helicopters carrying commandos to the Makran as part of the exercise.

Last week, Iran seized a South Korean oil tanker and its crew members in the Gulf, and continues to hold the vessel at an Iranian port. The Islamic Republic has apparently sought to increase its leverage over Seoul ahead of negotiations over billions of dollars in Iranian assets frozen in South Korean banks tied to U.S. sanctions on Iran.

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of having secret ties with the militant al-Qaida network and imposed new sanctions on several senior Iranian officials. Iran has denied the accusation.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday said in a televised speech during a Cabinet meeting that U.S. sanctions will fail. “We are witnessing the failure of a policy, the maximum pressure campaign, economic terrorism,” he said.