TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards began military manoeuvres on Monday, news agencies said, the same day the U.S. Navy said it was carrying out an exercise in the Gulf.
The war games were conducted by missile units of theGuards' naval and air forces, the Fars and Mehr news agenciessaid. They said the exercises, which began a few hours ago,were aimed at improving combat readiness and capability.
The reports did not give details of where the exercise wastaking place. The Guards often conduct manoeuvres in the Gulf.
Speculation about a possible attack on Iran because of itsdisputed nuclear programme has risen since the New York Timesnewspaper reported last month that Israel's armed forces hadpractised such a strike.
Fear of an escalation in the standoff between the West andIran, the world's fourth largest oil producer, has helpedpropel oil prices over $140 a barrel.
The head of the Revolutionary Guards said in remarkspublished in late June that Tehran would impose controls onshipping in the Gulf and the strategic Strait of Hormuz if itwas attacked.
The U.S. Navy last week vowed Iran would not be allowed toblock the Gulf waterway, which carries crude from the world'slargest oil exporting region.
The U.S. Navy said on Monday that two U.S. vessels weretaking part in its exercise alongside a British warship and onefrom Bahrain, a Gulf Arab ally which hosts the Fifth Fleet.
"The aim of Exercise Stake Net is to practice the tacticsand procedures of protecting maritime infrastructure such asgas and oil installations," Commodore Peter Hudson said in aU.S. Fifth Fleet statement.
Western powers say they fear Iran is seeking to developnuclear weapons under cover of a civilian nuclear programme.Tehran says the work aims to generate electricity.
There have been repeated incidents in the Gulf in whichU.S. ships have come close to skirmishing with approachingboats in the busy waterway.
The Revolutionary Guards is an ideological wing of theIslamic Republic's armed forces and has a separate commandstructure to the regular military.
The Guards were reported by state media to have held twodays of war games in the Gulf and Sea of Oman in February 2007.
(Reporting by Hossein Jaseb and Hashem Kalantari; Writingby Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Catherine Evans)