based, Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat reported last Monday, that
the Iranian armed forces had raised their level of alert in
anticipation of a possible attack on its nuclear facilities.
What seems to be the reason for Tehran's concern, are two developments,
one interior and the other exterior. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's
latest statements at Natanz enrichment plant, praising Iran's
nuclear program, sent a new signal to the international community,
in particular Washington, that Tehran was clearly defying all
calls to stop the ongoing momentum. Ali Larijani, Iran's chief
nuclear negotiator with the West even went as far as to warn,
that Iran would review its membership of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
exterior event, which raised eyebrows in Tehran must have been
the quite unprecedented but widely publicized visit of a high-profile
military group, led by US Marine general James T Conway, to
26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) aboard the multipurpose
amphibious assault ship USS Baatan (LHD 5) in the Persian Gulf.
In past circumstances, such visits were kept away from the public,
or played down.
The waters in the Arabian Gulf ( or Persian Gulf),
are highly turbulent these days. The United States has bolstered
its naval presence only recently, by deploying another carrier
strike force - USS
Nimitz, which is on its way. Already deployed there are
the carrier strike groups USS Dwight D Eisenhower which is located
on station in the Gulf, while the
John C. Stennis Strike Group, cruises not far away, in the
Arabian Sea. Also deployed in the Arabian Sea is a French carrier
group, led by the Charles de Gaulle. What had already sent jitters
to Iran's military brass, were the US Navy's most extensive
maneuvers held in the Gulf region since the 2003 invasion of
Iraq. The exercises involved over 10,000 US personnel on warships
and aircraft making simulated attacks on enemy shipping, hunting
enemy submarines and disarming mine barriers.
Already on top of the world's focus of interest, due to its
crucial strategic posture, the Persian Gulf is a 600-mile (nearly
1000 km) long body of water that narrows to 34 miles (approx
55km) at the Hormuz Strait before connecting to the Arabian
Sea. To the west are the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia and to
its East spans the nearly 2500km long coast of Iran. Most of
the coastal region of Iran bordering the Gulf is of rugged mountainous
scenery which has significant strategic value. In those the
mountains overlooking the gulf, Iranian artillery batteries
are deployed, according to US intelligence reports, some even
equipped with 155mm artillery shells filled with chemical agents.
The strategic Strait of Hormuz., by far the world’s
most critical oil traffic chokepoint, which lies at
the entrance to the Persian Gulf. Over 14 million barrels
of oil are passing daily, round-the-clock, through this
Due to its highly geo-strategic location, Iran possesses the
capability to disrupt, if not completely stop, the flow of oil
from the Gulf. Giant oil tanker traffic carrying daily cargo
of millions barrels per day could find themselves threatened
by mines or crossfire between opposing forces, a concern, which
would raise insurance fees to unacceptable level. Such a development
could send shockwaves throughout the oil world- and Iran's rogue
president is perfectly aware of its consequences- oil prices
will sky-rocket to unprecedented proportions, filling his nation's
coffers with funding for his sinister projects!
But present focus is primarily on the strategic Strait of
Hormuz., by far the world’s most critical oil traffic
chokepoint, which lies at the entrance to the Persian Gulf.
Over 14 million barrels of oil are passing daily, round-the-clock,
through this Strait. The strait itself is barely 21 miles (34km)
wide. At its narrowest, the Strait consists of two 1-mile (1.5km)-wide
channels for inbound and outbound tanker traffic, as well as
a 2-mile (3km)-wide buffer zone.
that's not all that bothers the worlds leading shipping Barons
in this dangerous stretch of waterway. The Iranian port of Bandar
Abbas is poised at the head of the Straits of Hormuz and is
the military nerve centre from which the Iranian defense strategy
in the Persian Gulf would be coordinated in an emergency.
Its location along the Gulf already made it a highly strategic
military area since ancient history. In the 5th century BC,
Darius, the king of Achaemenid Empire embarked from here for
his daring expedition into India. Also, as one of the Persian
Gulf's most dominating points, the port continued its importance
supporting Alexander the Great's conquests in this region. The
Portuguese navy, the Persian Safavid Empire, local Arab dynasties
and the British took turns in controlling the area before it
finally reverted to Iranian control in the last century.
Bandar Abbas's coastline already bristles with military surface
radars and anti-aircraft batteries as well as sprawling navy
camps. Surface-to-surface missiles capable of targeting shipping
moving through the Straits of Hormuz are deployed in fortified
bunkers protecting them against attack from US Navy airpower
in the Gulf. The effectiveness of these coast-to-ship rockets
was dramatically demonstrated by Hezbollah last year when it
hit a high-tech Israeli Sa'ar missile corvette Hanit, off the
Lebanese coast at the start of the five-week conflict.
naval base, the closest and best access point of Iran to the
Indian Ocean is being modified to serve the kilo-class submarines
Iran bought from Russia in the 1990s. In 2001 the Iranian armed
forces staged the Unity-80 naval exercises from here, as part
of an effort to make the Chahbahar naval base and its submarines
operational. The naval base at Jask is located in Hormuzgan
Province, on a commanding position at the entrance to the Hormuz
strait. Its highly strategic position was already widely recognized
when in 1820 the English fleet fought the "Battle of Jask"
against the Portuguese navy in the Gulf. In the Second World
War, a British tanker, the British Venture was sunk by a Japanese
submarine off Jask, which at the time held an RAF surveillance
station. Currently, intelligence reports have identified Jask
as the center of Chinese made long-range missiles.
US Military analysts warn that Iran's missile armaments pose
the greatest concern for American forces in the Gulf, especially
for the US Navy. Geographically, the Iranian coast facing the
Persian Gulf is a looming wall of mountains that look down upon
any naval forces arrayed in those waters. But the greatest threat
comes from the Iranian occupied islands located off the Persian
Gulf coast which are strategically sited, virtually controlling
the shipping lanes of the Strait of Hormuz.
US intelligence has located advanced anti-ship missiles are
deployed at Abu Musa and two other islands, Qeshm and Sirri.
Among the most dangerous, is the Russian-made 3M-82 Moskit anti-ship
cruise missiles (NATO designation: SS-N-22 "Sunburn".
To demonstrate their effectiveness, one has only to be reminded
of the serious incident, in which, right in these very waters,
in May 1987 the USS Stark was nearly cut in half by two anti-ship
missiles. The Asian Times reported recently, that Abu Musa Island,
along with its mountainous areas, is teeming with Supersonic
cruise missiles such as Yakonts, Moskits, Granits, and Brahmos,
controlled by Iranian IRGC crews.
In late January of 2000, US satellites monitored an Iranian
Marine Brigade, with supporting artillery and SAMs, reinforcing
Qeshm Island where many mobile anti-ship missiles were already
located. Revolutionary Guard units also moved to reinforce the
islands of Jazirezye Larak, Tunb al Kubra, and Abu Musa, as
well as miscellaneous oil platforms. These surprising moves
remained unexplained at the time, but raised the level of alert
in nearby US military installations in Saudi Arabia and Gulf
nations. At the same time the USS John C. Stennis strike group
deployed to its station in the Gulf in support of the UK/US
enforced no-fly zone in Sadam's Iraq.
An unconfirmed report quoting unidentified Pentagon sources
has recently revealed a top secret Iranian contingency plan,
allegedly leaked by a former Iranian intelligence defector.
The document detailed a strike plan which schematically laid
out Iran's military and strategic assets from the Straits of
Hormuz. Coordinated by an operational headquarters, forces would
integrate Revolutionary Guards missile units, strike aircraft,
surface and underwater vessels, anti-shipping missiles, mine
cruise missiles, all hitting targets in the Sea of Oman and
northern Indian Ocean. Senior Iranian commanders, like Rear-Admiral
Ali Fadavi, of the Revolutionary Guard have expressed similar
claims, although without going into operational details. While
those reports should be regarded with caution, they nevertheless
render an insight into the ongoing trends in Tehran's naval
strategy in the Gulf.
Among its options, the Iranian Navy is reviewing contingency
plans to attack tanker traffic and US naval forces in the Gulf.
According to reports the IRGC naval wing has recently upgraded
its "swarming" raids tactics, practiced already during
the Iraq-Iran war with considerable success. Using masses of
small rapid-attack speed boats these tactics require light forces
with substantial firepower, which are capable to mount attacks
on enemy prime targets, such as fully loaded giant oil tankers.
Approaching from multiple directions, out of concealed bases
along the coastline, hundreds of agile boats will converge on
their target simultaneously from different directions. Fast
missile or torpedo attack craft, are most suitable for this
kind of operation. A small-scale demonstration could be the
dramatic IRGC capture of the 15 brits in the Shatt-al Arab earlier
Iran's somewhat larger boats are ten Houdong-class patrol boats
purchased from China for the IRGC (Pasdaran) Revolutionary Guard
Corps. These ships displace 205 tons, carry four C802 missiles,
a twin 30mm gun, and a twin 23mm gun. Also in service are ten
275 ton Karman class (French built Combattante II ) missile
boats, armed with 76mm guns and C802 missiles.
seems quite obvious that neither the Iranian navy nor its air
force is a match against US Navy firepower deployed in the Persian
Gulf. However, by using sophisticated asymmetric naval tactics
against vulnerable prime targets, combining protected coastal
and island deployed anti-ship missiles, mining operations with
swarm tactics, the Iranian IRGC naval wing can cause substantial
losses to strategic shipping lanes, as well as pose considerable
challenge to US Navy strike group commanders, in their mission
to defend this strategic lifeline for the benefit of global