(Persia Digest) - Iranian and Russian military forces will stage a rare naval drill in the Persian Gulf later this year, the commander of Iran’s navy has announced.

Press TV reports that Rear-Admiral Hossein Khanzadi made the announcement during a press conference on Monday upon return to Tehran from a high-profile visit to China, where he met with his counterparts from other countries.

“Our negotiations with Russia revolved mostly around technical and operational topic and we plan to hold a joint naval exercise” this year, he said.

While Iranian and Russian naval forces have trained together in the Caspian Sea before, the upcoming Persian Gulf drill takes cooperation between the two sides to a new level.

The announcement comes at a time that Iran has threatened to close the Hormuz Strait, a strategic chokepoint that passes through a large chunk of world’s oil every day, in response to threats by the United States to zero out Tehran’s oil exports.

The Persian Gulf has also become the center of another showdown between Iranian and American forces following US President Donald Trump’s recent move to designate Iran’s elite Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization.

Iran has in response designated the US central Command (CENTCOM), which oversees all US forces’ operations in the region, as terrorist and vowed to confront them in case of any trespassing on its territorial waters in the Persian Gulf.

In January, Admiral Khanzadi said upon announcing joint drills in the Caspian Sea that military-to-military work with Russia “will surely take us to a new level of cooperation in strategic, tactical, and operational areas at sea.”

The Iranian navy has celebrated significant advances over the past years and expanded its global operating range.

Admiral Khanzadi announced that the force would soon receive the Damavand destroyer, which he said is currently being equipped with the latest domestic technologies for naval combat.

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The Iranian commander also announced that he had signed an extensive cooperation agreement with his Chinese counterparts during the trip.

“Expanding technical and training capacities will be some of the issues we have on agenda for our interactions with the Chinese navy,” he added.

Khanzadi noted that besides China, Iran has received invitations from India, Pakistan and even Italy for joint work on training.

“Currently, our officers are being trained in some of these countries and some of them have sent officers to Iran to receive training,” he said.

Iran to defend oil tankers against Israel

Asked about Israeli Prime Minister Benajmin Netanyahu’s recent remarks about the possibility of using military action to hinder Iranian oil exports, Khanzadi said the armed forces were ready to protect Iran’s tanker fleet.

“The Islamic Republic’s tankers are part of our country’s soil and surely we will protect them,” he asserted.

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