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Iran military plans more drills in Strait of Hormuz soon

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran plans to hold military drills in the Strait of Hormuz, a vital oil and gas shipping route, by next March, Iranian media quoted a commander from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as saying on Monday.

IRGC Navy Commander Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi told reporters on Monday that the drill would be held by the end of the current Iranian year, which ends on March 20, but gave no details on timing or what the exercise would involve.

"By the end of the (Iranian) year we will hold an exercise in the Strait of Hormuz and will announce the exact time soon," Fadavi said, according to Iranian student news agency ISNA.

Iranian officials have often said that Iran could block the strait - through which 40 percent of the world's sea-borne oil exports pass - if it comes under military attack over its disputed nuclear program.

A heavy Western naval presence in the Gulf is a big impediment to any attempt to block the waterway but both sides have staged maneuvers in the area this year to demonstrate their military capabilities.

Iranian threats to block Hormuz helped put upward pressure on oil prices in early 2012, softening the blow to Iranian government revenues dealt by a severe reduction in crude export volumes caused by punitive Western sanctions.

No other countries have threatened to bar the narrow waterway between Iran and Oman, but Iranian military leaders say their presence helps ensure the safe passage of millions of barrels a day of oil out of the Gulf.

"The presence of the Islamic Republic in the Strait of Hormuz as the Persian Gulf's number one power guarantees the security of oil exports to the world," Brigadier General Yahya Rahim-Safavi was quoted by Iran's Press TV as saying.

"We guarantee the oil exports through the Strait of Hormuz on the condition that no military threat is issued against our country because Asia's southeastern countries direly need the region's oil."

Israel has threatened military action against Iran, and the United States has not ruled it out, unless their arch-adversary abandons nuclear activities which the West suspects are intended to develop atomic bomb know-how.

The Islamic Republic says it is enriching uranium for peaceful energy purposes only.

(Reporting by Daniel Fineren and Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Mark Heinrich)