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Friday, November 30, 2007

Iran's Revolutionary Guards at Sea

An Iranian power shift in the Arabian Gulf, with the Revolutionary Guard in charge, as noted in Iran's Revolutionary Guards patrol Persian Gulf, U.S. says:
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps has taken command of Iranian naval operations in the Persian Gulf, the U.S. military has revealed.

That means U.S. naval forces are operating in the same waters as an organization the United States considers a major supporter of terrorist activity.
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Afterward, in a written statement, the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet in Bahrain said, "Based on activities observed in the Arabian Gulf over the past several months, it appears the Iranian navy has shifted its patrol areas to the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman -- leaving the IRGC navy to provide the primary Iranian naval presence in the Arabian Gulf."

The move is of concern to the U.S. Navy, which has long viewed the IRGC's forces as more antagonistic than Iran's regular navy.

Mullen said Iran made a "strategic decision" in recent months to "essentially give the entire Gulf to the IRGC over the next four or five years."

"That's a big deal, because I think part of the leading-edge challenge with Iran is the IRGC specifically," Mullen said.

For the past several months, IRGC forces have occupied a sunken barge and crane near Iraqi oil terminals at the northern end of the Persian Gulf. The IRGC is using the site as an observation post for the area, which is patrolled regularly by U.S. and coalition naval forces.
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The IRGC was formed in 1979. Under Iran's constitution, the corps' task is to protect the revolution, which generally means that it makes sure that domestic forces don't threaten the theocratic state, said analyst William Samii of the Center for Naval Analyses. The center is a government-funded think tank for the Department of the Navy in Alexandria, Virginia.

In contrast, the conventional forces are tasked with protecting the country's borders and guaranteeing its security.

The naval move "makes perfect sense," Samii said in a telephone interview.

In recent years, the Iranian military has recognized that, in a toe-to-toe fight with the U.S. military, "they'd get squashed," Samii said.

In response, it has been focusing more on alternative tactics, in which the Revolutionary Guards excel, such as setting mine fields and using large numbers of small boats either packed with explosives or manned by personnel carrying rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The thinking is that at least one would be able to get close enough to a large enemy military vessel to attack it, Samii said.

"Iran is trying to send a signal that it is ready for any military eventuality and that it is prepared to defend itself aggressively," he said.
On a related note, it appears the Iranian "Kilo-class" submarines have been underway, according to Navy Times:
Officials aboard the cruiser Vicksburg spotted and photographed two surfaced Iranian Kilo-class submarines in the Persian Gulf a few weeks ago, the ship’s skipper told Navy Secretary Donald Winter during a visit to the ship on Saturday.

The Russian-designed diesel-electric attack subs were tracked and photographed by sailors onboard the Mayport, Fla.-based ship, said Capt. Chip Swicker. Crew members showed Winter the photographs of the surfaced subs. The Vicksburg did not communicate with either of the subs, Swicker said.

“They watched us and we watched them,” he said.

Crew members aboard the cruiser didn’t consider the encounters hostile, although it wasn’t clear if the Iranian boats surfaced within view of the cruiser or if the U.S. warship happened to see the Iranian subs while they were already running on the surface. Iran has a fleet of three Kilo-class SSKs, according to Jane’s Fighting Ships.
Galrahn has a whole lot more on the Iranian subsurface threat here, here and Bubblehead also keeps an eye on them - as he does here.

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