The Growing Threat Posed by Iran's Two Navies

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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.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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