Tension Rises as Iran’s IRGC Navy Takes Charge of Gulf

The Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah ‘Ali Khamanai, has charged the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) with defending the waterway in the Gulf instead of the regular military navy. The announcement came from Khamanai’s security adviser, the former commander of the IRGC, Maj.-Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, who warned that any hostile targets throughout the Gulf and all warships passing through it would be within the reach of the IRGC’s missiles.

The IRGC was established after the Islamic revolution in 1979. It is separate from the regular army, the Artesh, and is equipped with its own ground, naval and air forces, as well as special forces operating outside Iranian territories known as the Al-Quds Force. With 20,000 soldiers serving in its naval forces, IRGC’s navy is much smaller than the regular military navy. Nevertheless, Khamanai’s move is considered by Dr. Shahram Chubin, an expert on Iran, as potentially dangerous to regional security.

“The regular military navy. has a decent working relationship with the coalition navies in the Gulf, that is to say it has certain rules of behavior and procedure to avoid incidents on the waterway,” Chubin told The Media Line. The IRGC, added Chubin, tends to “zoom around the coalition forces and intimidate them, calling them names and creating tensions with them.”

In the past few years, the IRGC naval forces have become more and more active in the Gulf. They were also the ones responsible for the kidnapping of British servicemen twice since 2004, said Chubin, who is the director of studies at the Geneva Center for Security Policy.

The decision to officially hand over the Gulf to the IRGC is an indication of how it is becoming more important in Iran in general, said Chubin, suggesting that perhaps this is also an indication of an Iranian government decision to put more resources into the IRGC and less into the military.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to ease tension, spokesmen for the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet and the U.S. Joint Forces Command told the London-based daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat that the Iranian move would not affect U.S. policy, as the U.S. was not looking for any confrontation with Iran in the Gulf.


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