In recent weeks, there has been a significant increase in tensions in the Persian Gulf due to the United States’ buildup of warships, military aircraft, and troops.
This comes in the midst of Iran’s efforts to crack down on oil smuggling and maritime violations. Responding to this, Iran’s conventional armed forces along with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have issued a series of strong warnings.
According to Ali Reza Tangsiri, the Commander of the IRGC Navy, even the large US warships that navigate through the waters of the Persian Gulf are required to adhere to Iran’s maritime regulations.
Tangsiri made this statement while addressing fellow IRGC commanders, stating that American warships, including those carrying airplanes and helicopters, comply with Iran’s rules during their passage through the Persian Gulf.
Tangsiri further emphasized the transformation of the situation, noting that in the past, NATO countries did not respect the maritime laws of Iran’s waterways. However, the IRGC Navy’s warnings are now heeded by these nations. Tangsiri recounted an incident where IRGC vessels approached a US aircraft carrier, causing the warship to retreat to a distance of 180 miles.
The Commander also highlighted the increasing capabilities of the IRGC’s naval forces. This includes the deployment of long-range coastal defense missiles and the development of speedboats equipped with rocket launchers and drones that can be launched from warships. Notably, the IRGC Navy has manufactured speedboats capable of reaching speeds of up to 110 knots (over 200 km per hour).
With their array of armaments, the IRGC Navy possesses capabilities for asymmetric warfare, similar to the story of David and Goliath, against larger US warships. Both the Revolutionary Guard and Iran’s regular armed forces have created and deployed various weapons, including ballistic and cruise missiles, agile fleets with increasing lethality, coastal defense systems (some of which are concealed within secretive mountain strongholds), as well as a range of domestically developed reconnaissance and strike drones.
Iran, known for its willingness to employ its military prowess even against the formidable US armed forces, has consistently responded to American aggression or violations of maritime boundaries. In recent weeks, as the US presence in the Gulf has increased, Iran has issued a series of warnings to Washington.
Just last week, following the US announcement of deploying a substantial number of Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit to the Gulf, General Ramezan Sharif, the spokesperson for the IRGC, cautioned that Iran had attained a level of power and capability that enables it to reciprocate any US actions or provocations, including ship seizures.
A notable instance earlier this year involved the Iranian Navy compelling a US nuclear ballistic missile submarine to emerge to the surface as it attempted to discreetly pass through the Hormuz Strait. In another instance in April, Iran’s military industry declared the achievement of the ability to detect the radar signatures of individual Lockheed Martin F-35 jets. Continuing this trend, in June, Iran unveiled a novel hypersonic missile. Most recently, in the past week, Iranian media disclosed that the country’s scientists had succeeded in developing a new category of cruise missile powered by ramjet engines.
What’s Causing the Rise in Tensions Between Iran and the US?
Tensions between Iran and the US began escalating in mid-July when the US initiated an increase in its military presence in the Gulf region. This included deploying more F-16 fighters, missile destroyers, an amphibious strike group, and the aforementioned Marines. The official reasoning provided by the US for this buildup was to enhance the “visibility” of its military. This move was linked to a rise in Iranian seizures of commercial vessels operating in regional waters. Notably, Iran had intensified its efforts to curb vessels involved in illicit oil smuggling and had detained a US-bound oil tanker in April after a collision with an Iranian fishing boat, followed by an attempt to flee the scene.
This escalation coincides with diminishing prospects for the revival of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The US had withdrawn from the agreement in 2018 under pressure from Israel. The Biden administration, which took office in 2021, had pledged to reinstate the JCPOA. However, negotiations regarding the US rejoining the deal have hit an impasse. This is due to Washington’s endeavors to impose additional conditions on the agreement and its refusal to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from its list of designated “terrorist groups.”
Iran has vehemently rejected the classification of the IRGC as a terrorist group. President Ebrahim Raisi emphasized this sentiment on Friday, stating that the actions of the IRGC in Iraq and Syria prevented the spread of terror by groups like ISIS (Daesh)*, preventing the potential overrun of America’s European allies.
“The tranquil existence that Europe presently enjoys is a consequence of the endeavors undertaken by the IRGC. However, it is regrettable that they are eliminating the champions who combat terrorism and classifying the IRGC, which spearheads the battle against terrorism, as ‘terrorists’,” Raisi remarked, alluding to the US assassination of IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani in 2020.
The ongoing escalation isn’t the initial instance when Iran and the US have faced the possibility of conflict. In the 1980s, a multitude of tanker vessels and other commercial ships encountered attacks in the Gulf amidst the Iran-Iraq War. Iranian and US forces found themselves involved in a sequence of skirmishes during this period, and the conflict culminated in the US shooting down an Iranian passenger plane on July 3, 1988, resulting in the tragic demise of all 290 individuals aboard.