In new escalation, Iran plans permanent base in Indian Ocean

Iran’s focus on the Indian Ocean comes within the context of its relentless pursuit to expand its growing influence.
Tuesday 23/06/2020
An Iranian navy vessel is seen during war games in the northern Indian Ocean and near the entrance to the Gulf, Iran, June 17. (AP)
An Iranian navy vessel is seen during war games in the northern Indian Ocean and near the entrance to the Gulf, Iran, June 17. (AP)

LONDON –Iran’s Islamic Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) announced Monday that they plan to set up a permanent base in the Indian Ocean by the end of next March.

“Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has tasked the IRGC with permanent presence in waters far away from the country,” IRGC Navy Commander Rear Admiral Alireza Tangsiri said.

The IRGC commander said that “pirates and some foreign vessels had, in the past, created disturbances for the Iranian trawlers and dhows in the country’s southern waters.”

“Through its powerful presence in the Sea of Oman and the Indian Ocean, the IRGC will no longer leave any room for such acts of infringement,” he added.

“All requirements have been considered and the matter is being planned,” Tangsiri said, adding that Iran’s “presence will be strong and firm to improve security at the entrance to the Indian Ocean.”

Iran’s focus on the Indian Ocean comes within the context of its relentless pursuit to expand its growing influence in some regions and countries bordering the strategic pivot for sea trading.

Through its foreign military arm, the IRGC, Tehran has been seeking to play a role that exceeds its geopolitical reach in recent years. To make this possible, Iran has deployed small forces in international territorial waters, especially off the economic areas of the Arab Gulf states.

Through the announcement of the new permanent base, Iran seems to be hoping to exert further pressure on Washington and its regional allies in response to the US sanctions and the Caesar Law that has come into effect this month.

Iran is also looking for an escalation at a time when Arab Gulf countries have been working to find alternative routes to export their oil to the rest of the world while circumventing the ongoing Iranian threat in the Arabian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.

Last week, Iran test fired cruise missiles in a naval exercise in the Gulf of Oman and northern Indian Ocean, according to state media reports.

A report by the official IRNA news agency said the missiles destroyed targets at a distance of 280 kilometres (170 miles), adding that the tests took place during a naval drill by Iran’s navy in the Gulf of Oman and Indian Ocean.

IRNA said the missiles’ range can be extended but gave no details.

The news agency said two kinds of missiles were fired, without elaborating, and broadcast images of projectiles being launched from both a truck and a ship, hitting a buoyant target in the sea.

Iran’s navy chief Admiral Hossein Khanzadi told state TV that the “homing” c-class cruise missiles have new warheads that can hit targets with high accuracy at a close distance. He said the missiles are capable of resisting “any kind of electronic war.”

The reports were the first of a drill since May, when a missile fired during an Iranian training exercise mistakenly struck an Iranian naval vessel instead of its intended target in waters near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, killing 19 sailors and wounding 15 others.

It also comes after a tense naval encounter between Iranian and US forces in the nearby Persian Gulf.

In April, the US accused Iran of conducting “dangerous and harassing” manoeuvres near American warships in the northern Persian Gulf. Iran was also suspected of briefly seizing a Hong Kong-flagged oil tanker before that.

Iran regularly holds exercises in the Gulf of Oman, which is close to the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Arabian Gulf through which 20% of the world’s oil trade passes.

The United Nations Security Council is due to hold a first round of talks tomorrow on a US proposal to indefinitely extend an arms embargo on Iran, which is currently set to end in October under Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

The United States circulated a draft resolution on the measure to the 15-member council on Monday, diplomats said, but council veto-powers Russia and China have already signalled their opposition to the move.

Washington has long argued that the arms embargo on Iran should not be lifted. A resolution needs nine votes in favour and no vetoes by the United States, China, Russia, Britain or France to pass.

The US draft would ban the sale, supply or transfer of arms or related materiel by Iran and prohibits countries from selling, supplying or transferring arms or related materiel unless approved by a Security Council committee.

It requires countries to inspect cargo in their territory if they have reasonable grounds to believe the cargo contains banned items and also calls on countries to inspect vessels on the high seas – with the consent of the flag state – for the same reason.

The United States circulated the draft resolution after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reported to the Security Council earlier this month that cruise missiles used in several attacks on oil facilities and an international airport in Saudi Arabia last year were of “Iranian origin.”

If Washington is unsuccessful in extending the arms embargo, it has threatened to trigger at the Security Council a return of all UN sanctions on Iran under the nuclear deal, even though it quit the accord in 2018.