Saturday, January 26, 2008

"High Stakes in the Gulf"

In this week's Newsweek (Jan 28, 2008) there is an article titled "High Stakes in the Gulf."  It describes the situation we discussed in class about the miscommunication in the Strait of Hormuz.  I had heard about the incident, though I admit to barely paying attention to it.  So here are some details about the incident from the article.

First of all, it seems there have been two incidents in the Strait of Hormuz.  One was in December, and led to a U.S. captain firing warning shots.  The article does not specify what happened.  The second more recent incident involved five Iranian "launches."  Apparently they "careered" around 3 US warships for about 30 minutes.  They dropped objects in the water in the path of one of the vessels, and a radio transmission declared a US ship would "explode."

Navy analysts think that the confrontation was likely a "deliberate effort by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Crops to persuade US vessels to open fire on them."  And based on the report, I tend to agree.  I have to think about being on the Navy ship, in "hostile" territory.  What would you think if ships started circling and taunting you?  Unknown boxes in the water.  Weird transmissions.  It all seems kinda sketchy, and I'm sure I would have been unsettled.

Newsweek also posted a letter from the US to Iran, which I thought was kinda interesting.

However, the article ends by saying that "US warships by IRGC launches comes as the guard has taken more control of Gulf operations from Iran's regular Navy."  I am a little confused about this...

There is a video on YouTube that compiles how this story was covered on different news stations.  It's worth watching, I think.


Jason Cullen said...

Have to say I agree with you that this was most likely an effort by Iran to persuade the Navy to open fire. The Iranian's have been pulling the same stunt years.

It seems like people forget the USS Cole was disabled by a single fast boat in Yemen.

John Losinger said...

EKPrante: With regards to your confusion about "the guard taking more control of Gulf Operations," Iran's military is divided between its regular armed forces (the Artesh) and the IRGC (or Pasdaran) referred to in the article.

The important difference is that the IRGC were set up during the 1979 Revolution primarily to protect Khomeini and his nascent Islamic regime from the threat of Iran's regular armed forces. Although they were primarily set-up as an internal security force, the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) thrust the IRGC to the front lines, where they proved themselves as a viable external force as well.

Over the decades, the IRGC have come to dominate Iran's military apparatus.

The reason that the IRGC are typically seen as more of a concern is that the IRGC are much more radical and ideological than their Artesh counterparts.

The IRGC have slowly become Iran's defacto Navy in the Persian Gulf; relying on asymmetric techniques (i.e. small boat "swarming" attacks using speedboats similar to the ones in the video) specifically designed to counter larger US warships.

As Jason mentioned in the above post, the attack on the USS Cole was carried out using a small boat packed with explosives. This is one of the reasons that US Navy ships do not take lightly the idea of small boats approaching their warships.

Basically, the IRGC are radical religious zealots who, unlike more traditional military forces, place martyrdom very high on their list of tactics.

This was particularly evident during the Iran-Iraq War, when the IRGC participated in so-called "human wave" attacks. These attacks consisted of IRGC members (sometimes as young as 13 and sometimes older than 50) advancing in front of the regular army to both clear mines (by blowing themselves up on them) and draw enemy fire away from the more highly trained and better equipped Artesh.

The IRGC have also become increasingly involved in Iranian politics and its economy. It is estimated that the IRGC control some $12 billion in capital and are deeply imbedded in Iran's state-centered and highly corrupt economy. This financial clout has enabled the IRGC to finance terrorism abroad (particularly the funding of terrorist insurgents in Iraq).

This is one of the main reasons that the U.S. designated the group a terrorist organization in October of last year.