By Jeremy Herb - 01/06/12 09:33 PM EST
The United States and Israel are planning to team up for a joint military exercise to test missile defense systems, a move that is now threatening to further escalate tensions with Iran.
Iran responded Friday by announcing that in February it would hold its own new military exercises in the Strait of Hormuz, just days after it finished 10 days of war games in the Persian Gulf near the strait.
An Israeli military spokesman told the AP that the exercises would be the biggest missile defense drill ever conducted between the two countries, and thousands of U.S. and Israeli soldiers would take part.
Without giving an exact date, he said they would be held some time in the next few weeks.
Tensions between Iran and the West have been on the rise since Iran threatened to close down the Strait of Hormuz, a vital oil passageway, in response to potential economic sanctions against Iranian oil.
President Obama signed a law that included sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran, and the EU has a tentative agreement for an embargo on oil from Iran.
In response to the threat to close the strait, the U.S. said the Fifth Fleet would prevent any attempt to disrupt travel in the gulf.
Iran fired back with a warning that U.S. carriers — which had traveled through the Strait of Hormuz shortly after Iran’s initial threat — should stay out of the Persian Gulf.
Iran’s new military exercises will be conducted by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, said Navy Rear Adm. Ali Fadavi, according to the semiofficial Fars News Agency.
The drill, called “The Great Messenger,” would focus directly on the Strait of Hormuz, Fadavi said.