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The State Blog | Risks in the Revolutionary Guards' Rhetoric

by ALEX VATANKA

15 Jul 2012 02:08Comments

Belief in their own slogans could be disastrous.

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The State is a weekly column about Iranian security and diplomatic issues. Alex Vatanka is a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. Previously he was the managing editor of Jane's Islamic Affairs Analyst.

[ analysis ] Some in the ranks of the Iranian regime may be misreading the latest U.S. assessments and military buildup in the Persian Gulf. They paint it as reflecting American fears about Tehran's ability to retaliate in the event of war. This is a mistaken and potentially dangerous reading of the situation that could aggravate tensions between the United States and Iran.

Last week, the American and Iranian media publicized the U.S. military's decision earlier in the year to deploy additional minesweepers to the Persian Gulf. The reports pointed out that the Pentagon has doubled the number of minesweeping ships from four to eight and that Washington has speeded up efforts to introduce the so-called SeaFox underwater drones to detect and destroy any mines that Iran might choose to deposit in its southern waters. Elsewhere, a Pentagon report pointed out that the Iranians are steadily enhancing the capability of their missile arsenal. According to the report, "Iran has boosted the lethality and effectiveness of existing [missile] systems."

By Friday, Fars News, the influential news outlet under the control of Iran's premier military watchdog, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, put its own spin on these American maneuverings. In an article that could barely contain its glee, the outlet portrayed the United States as unsure of its ability to neutralize the threat posed by Iranian maritime forces and assets. The Fars piece, headlined "Iran's Small Submarines Are More Dangerous than Russia's Nuclear Subs," extensively quoted a former U.S. military official who had described to the American press the difficulty in dealing with the small but deadly Iranian submarines and mines.

Only a day before, Fars had quoted a host of Guard and other Iranian defense officials who warned the United States and Israel about the capacity of Tehran to hit back if it comes under attack. Less than a week before the Pentagon report on Iranian missiles was made public, Guard Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh spoke of Iran's "contingency plans to hit 35 U.S. bases in the region in the early minutes of a possible conflict."

13910424131434620_PhotoL.jpgSome degree of posturing by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps should be expected. This is, after all, a political-military force that has positioned itself as the vanguard defender of the Iranian homeland. The Guards are sensitive to their domestic constituency, to which they do need to cater. One can only hope that the Guards and other Iranian military officials do not begin to believe their own slogan-riddled rhetoric. That would risk further brinkmanship and increase the chances of an accidental conflict.

Washington's decision to reinforce U.S. naval assets in the region is not due to the invincibility of the Iranian military. It is a political gesture aimed at both Tehran and America's Arab allies in the Persian Gulf. It keeps the pressure on Tehran as its nuclear negotiations with the P5+1 fruitlessly continue. It is also a sign to the Arab allies of the United States that the American presence in the Persian Gulf will remain for decades to come and that this commitment is not tied to the U.S. withdrawals from Iraq and the one scheduled for 2014 from Afghanistan.

It is true that U.S. military officials genuinely seem to regard Iran's ability to close the Strait of Hormuz and otherwise disrupt maritime traffic in the Persian Gulf as a key challenge. Even in such a scenario, for Iran to temporarily close the strait and block the flow of energy out of the Persian Gulf is a very different proposition than winning a lasting military victory over U.S. forces. Even the most ardent regime propagandists in Tehran must know the difference.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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