China, Russia and Iran have begun joint naval drills in the Gulf of Oman amid increased tensions in the region, in what is the fifth common military exercise held by these countries in recent years.

According to Russian state media, a grouping of ships from Moscow’s Pacific Fleet – led by the Varyag cruiser – arrived at the Iranian port of Chabahar on Monday, ahead of the drills that started yesterday and end on Friday.

The joint exercises, titled ‘Maritime Security Belt – 2024’, reportedly involve numerous warships and aircraft, in what Russia’s Defence Ministry says is focused on the protection of “maritime economic activity”.

China’s Defence Ministry also addressed the drills, stating that they are aimed at “jointly maintaining regional maritime security”. Its statement revealed that “China will send… guided-missile destroyer Urumqi, guided-missile frigate Linyi and comprehensive supply ship Dongpinghu to participate in the exercise.”

Iranian state media, meanwhile, reported that the naval drills’ goal is to strengthen “the security of international maritime trade, combating piracy and maritime terrorism.”

The joint exercises are also reportedly being attended by representatives from the navies of Azerbaijan, India, Kazakhstan, Oman, Pakistan and South Africa, all of whom are acting as observers.

The naval drills come at a time when tensions in the Gulf region and particularly the Red Sea have increased exponentially over the past five months, with Yemen’s Houthis having launched attacks on Israeli-linked vessels passing through the Bab El-Mandeb Strait in protest against Israel’s war on Gaza.

As a consequence, a naval coalition led by the United States has been operating in Red Sea waters since December in an attempt to counter those Houthi attacks.

Source » middleeastmonitor