Iran Revolutionary Guards take over Gulf Naval Forces
An American intelligence report claims that Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps has been given command over Iran's navel operation in the Straights of Hormuz and in the Persian Gulf.
With the command transfer, apparently begun two years ago in 2007, the Guards seek to control the strategic passage of oil and transport in the Gulf region, and to prevent enemies of the state from accessing the waters in the event of war.
Numbering a reported 100,000 men, the Revolutionary Guards Corps has taken an increasingly large role in Iran. It has been given an enormous contract to develop Iran's biggest oil field, and it's militia arm was used in the crackdown on the mass demonstrations that sprang up after June's disputed elections. It's militia, known as the Basij, is sometimes compared to Hitler's brownshirts.
Originally formed in the wake of the 1979 Iranian revolution that overthrew the US backed Shah, it was used to counter both leftists, and those that remained loyal to the Shah.
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. 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.
"Iran's development program has strengthened its naval capabilities, increased 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.