It wasn’t exactly the largest naval exercise in the world, or even a very significant one in terms of firepower. But when Iran, Russia and China gathered ships at Chabahar in southeastern Iran on Friday, they were sending a message to the world.Iranian photographers were on hand to capture the moment that ships from the three countries readied to go to sea. It was a big moment for Tehran in which it showed that US sanctions and attempts to isolate Iran are not working. Acting-US Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said on Friday, in a statement that appeared timed to coincide with the naval drill, that Iran could conduct provocative actions in that region.Since May, tensions have risen in the Gulf between the US and Iran. According to US assessments, Iran has attacked six oil tankers, as well as Saudi Arabia and downed a US drone. Iran continues to harass ships and even took control of a UK-flagged vessel in July. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fast boats continue to be a threat.Iran says the drill is covering 17,000 sq. km. Several ships are involved – including Iran’s Sahand and Alborz destroyers, two Iranian logistic ships and the Neyzeh missile boat. Iran sent a hospital ship as well.Iran’s R. Adm. Hossein Khanzadi said the drill is important for security.On Saturday, the navies continued to work together for the second day. It is a four-day drill that will span the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman. Iran and India recently agreed to increase economic relations via Chabahar Port. The US has said it won’t block funding for this initiative.At the same time reports indicated the Chinese Xining guided-missile destroyer arrived at Chabahar for the joint exercise. Iran said Russia sent three ships from its Baltic Fleet, including the Yaroslav Mudry frigate, the Yevgeniy Khorov tanker and Yel’nya rescue boat.Iran has refitted its destroyers and considers them among its most advanced ships. Xining is also a very modern ship and Russia’s Mudry was commissioned a decade ago.Iranian media has played up this major success, while it has gone mostly unnoticed in Russia and China. Iran’s Press TV aired footage along with other channels.Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif highlighted the joint drills. Iran is pushing a maritime security initiative called HOPE (“Hormuz Peace”) and it wants to show off its responsible behavior.“Our joint military drills in the Sea of Oman and Indian Ocean with our Russian and Chinese partners make clear our broader commitment to secure vital waterways,” he said. Zarif has made recent diplomatic initiatives to Oman, and Iran’s president has gone to Malaysia and Japan. Iran also hosted a major Indian delegation. This comes as Iran is under criticism for cracking down on protests.The Iranian Embassy in China shared a tweet arguing this was a transitional era that shows not everything is done by the West. “We are living in a post-Western world.”The message is that this joint work brings stability. Iran’s Tasnim News had a similar message, saying the joint work reduces US hegemony. “Iran befriends the powerful because it has strategic ambition.”As usual, Iran is not secretive about what it wants. It wants friends in India, China and Russia and to displace the role of the US. It accomplishes this through official initiatives like this naval drill but also through other means, such as its clandestine activities to sabotage ships in the Gulf, to have proxies fire rockets at US personnel in Iraq, by showing it can down a US drone or that it can fire rockets at Israel, a key US ally.Iran is pushing the diplomatic envelope in Turkey, Malaysia, Japan, Oman and elsewhere. It wants to show it can multitask while the US is merely pushing sanctions. At the same time Iran continues to reduce adherence to the Iran nuclear deal.Iran’s navy is no match for the US, but its purpose behind these drills is not to show it can confront the US. It is to show that it can partner with other countries that also want to challenge US power in the long term.US defense strategy today is to focus on confronting Russia and China. Sea power is key to this. Yet the US Navy has been unclear as to what kind of ships it will build, scrapping ideas for littoral combat ships and a stealth-like DD-21 program, which also appears to have been a multi-decade failure.While the US searches for a policy and future combat vessels, the message from Tehran is that symbolically the US is no longer a global hegemon.