France and Gulf allies in war games amid Iran tensions

Forces from France, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar began their first joint war games on Monday in the Gulf amid lingering tensions between Iran and the West.

The “Gulf Shield 01” exercises took place on UAE territory and in international waters near key oil shipping lanes in the Strait of Hormuz, with combined operations to include mock attacks on a “hostile” island, the French military said.

“The main scenario involves a large fictitious island in the Gulf that threatens the UAE and Qatar, so we intervene in the framework of defense pacts to protect these two countries,” Lieutenant-Colonel Thierry Fusalba told Reuters.

The exercises last until March 5 and involve 1,500 French, 2,500 UAE, and 1,300 Qatari troops operating on land, at sea, and in the air. Around a half dozen warships, 40 aircraft, and dozens of armored vehicles are involved.

France is among world powers trying to exert pressure on Iran to halt atomic work, which they fear is aimed at making bombs. Tehran says its nuclear program is peaceful.

U.S.-allied Gulf Arab states have often voiced concern over Iran’s nuclear ambitions but want a peaceful solution.

Fusalba said the war games had been planned for a year and had were not linked to Iran. A UAE official who did not wish to be named also denied any link between the exercises and its large neighbor across the Gulf.

Paris signed a deal with the UAE in January to build France’s first permanent military installation in the Gulf. Iran said the nearby base would harm regional peace.

Last month, U.S. naval vessels and Iranian speed boats came close to opening fire on each other in the Gulf.

(Reporting by Firouz Sedarat; Editing by Jon Boyle)