An interesting piece in Foreign Affairs by W. Jonathan Rue on Iran's naval assertiveness. I wrote about the threat posed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy last week; Rue supplies a great deal of new data about the threat:
Evidence of Iran's growing naval assertiveness is already on display. In December 2010, Iran participated in a training exercise with Djibouti during a port call there. Tehran sailed away from that engagement with a partnership agreement that could allow Iran to use Djibouti as a logistical base supporting a larger and persistent Iranian presence in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. Two months later, for the first time since 1979, Iran sent two ships through the Suez Canal to the Eastern Mediterranean, inducing the ire of both Israel and the United States. Neither country retaliated, but Israel closely tracked the ships as they sailed along the Israeli coast. This summer, Iran sent one of its Kilo class submarines to the Red Sea on a counter-piracy operation. Finally, Iran recently asserted plans to send naval patrols to the Western Atlantic. Although Iran probably doesn't have the capacity for such a mission, this kind of rhetoric speaks to Tehran's grand ambitions and is a way of emphasizing what it sees as the illegitimacy of the U.S. naval presence in the Persian Gulf.
On numerous occasions in recent years, IRGCN small boats have come dangerously close to U.S. and Western naval ships operating in the Persian Gulf. By all accounts, this is not an abnormal occurrence and usually ends with the small boat being turned away. But a recent change has increased the danger of escalation. Since 2005, Iran has been decentralizing command and control, not requiring subordinate commanders to get approval for all actions from senior leaders in Tehran. Thus, an IRGCN boat commander was able to take the initiative and capture a small crew of British sailors in 2007, a tactical action with strategic consequences. Should the IRGCN become more assertive, such engagements could spiral out of control.