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Iran Guards take over naval forces in Gulf: US intelligence

Posted by Zand-Bon on Nov 30th, 2009 and filed under INTERNATIONAL NEWS FOCUS, News, Photos, Rotating Photos. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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By Dan De Luce

November 30, 2009


An Iranian tanker sails off the coast of Qeshm Island in the Strait of Hormuz

An Iranian tanker sails off the coast of Qeshm Island in the Strait of Hormuz

WASHINGTON — Iran has given the Revolutionary Guards Corps command over naval operations in the oil-rich Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz as part of a strategy to block access to vital sea lanes in the event of a war, according to a US intelligence study.

The military reorganization launched in 2007 transfers responsibility for the Gulf from the regular navy to the elite Guards’ naval force, which has an arsenal of small, high-speed boats and cruise missiles, said the study by the US Office of Naval Intelligence.

“Throughout the restructuring, senior commanders in the IRIN (Islamic Republic of Iran Navy) and IRGCN (Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy) have reiterated that the reorganization of existing bases and the creation of new bases create a line of defense that would prevent an enemy from accessing the Strait of Hormuz and, thus, the Persian Gulf,” said the study dated Fall 2009.

The intelligence study was first reported by the Secrecy News website last week.

With the regular Iranian navy operating in the Gulf of Oman with larger warships and the Guards’ using a new base at Asaluyeh to operate in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, the approach will “better allow Iranian naval assets to contribute to and extend Iran’s layered defense strategy,” the study said.

Gulf states produce nearly 30 percent of the world’s oil supply, much of which passes through the narrow Strait of Hormuz, said the study, citing figures from the US Energy Department.

The assessment of Iran’s growing naval power comes amid rising international tensions over the country’s nuclear program.

Major powers threatened fresh sanctions against Iran on Monday after Tehran defiantly pledged to build 10 more uranium enrichment plants.

The United States and Israel have refused to rule out a military strike against Iran’s nuclear sites while Tehran has warned it stands ready to hit back if it is attacked.

As Iran also relies on the Strait of Hormuz to transport most its oil exports, imposing a blockade on the area would carry risks for Tehran as well, the study said.

“Closing the Strait of Hormuz would cause Iran tremendous economic damage, and therefore Iran would probably not undertake a closure lightly,” it said.

“However, given the importance of the Strait, disrupting traffic flow or even threatening to do so may be an effective tool for Iran.”

As a generously funded pillar of the regime, the Guards Corps has bolstered its naval might by purchasing Chinese vessels equipped with anti-ship missiles and manufactured patrol craft and missile boats based on North Korean designs, the study said.

“Overall, Iran’s development program has strengthened its naval capabilities, yielding increases in the country’s inventory of small boats, mines, anti-ship cruise missiles, torpedoes, and air defense equipment,” it said.

The corps also bought a number of speed boats from the Italian firm Fabio Buzzi Design, and then reverse-engineered the vessels.

The Iranian version of the Fabio Buzzi boat gives the Guards “some of the fastest naval vessels in the Persian Gulf,” the study said.

Iran was reportedly seeking to develop unmanned vessels as well, it said.

The Revolutionary Guards Corps has taken on an increasingly high profile in recent years, using its militia wing — the feared Basij — to crack down on mass street protests after disputed elections in June.

And the Guards now own large tranches of the country’s economy, including a massive contract to develop Iran’s biggest gas field.

Estimated at more than 100,000 troops, the corps was initially created to counter perceived threats from leftist guerrillas and army officers who remained loyal to the US-backed shah, overthrown in the 1979 revolution.

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