Part and parcel of this rhetoric are boastful comments regarding Iran’s military readiness. IRGC officers and other hardline officials have been known to transparently express openness to the prospect of war with the strongest fighting forces in the world, including those of the United States military. This rhetoric was on display once again on Monday, when the Associated Press reported that the Iranian Defense Ministry had claimed to be starting mass production on a domestically produced tank supposedly equipped with precision-guided missiles.
The AP report notes that Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan declared the Karrar tank to be capable of competing with the most advanced tanks in the world in terms of “power, precision, and mobility.” The report provides coveys no independent commentary on the validity of such claims, but the Islamic Republic has a demonstrated history of overstating the levels of its military advancement in various areas. This was highlighted last week in an article republished at Scout.com, which pointed to the Qaher F-313 fighter jet as an example of military equipment that was independently judged to be a non-functional mock-up, despite Tehran’s claims of operational readiness.
Nevertheless, the AP points out that Iran has been domestically producing weapons and military technology for two decades. And whether recent claims about the Karrar tank can be substantiated or not, the claims themselves illustrate that the regime is striving to carry on with a substantial military buildup in the present conditions, which include considerable relief from economic sanctions as a result of the nuclear agreement.
The Washington Times highlighted another Iranian claim of military advancement on Monday, namely that the country’s air defenses now included equipment capable of jamming the controls of a drone and even taking them over in order to turn it against its operators or land it safely on Iranian territory. Such claims are reminiscent of a 2011 incident in which an American drone crash landed in Iran, leading the Iranians to claim that they had brought it down intentionally while the Americans maintained that it was an accident. The capture of the downed aircraft later led to the IRGC asserting that it had cloned the technology, but the images of the resulting clone were disputed in much the same way as those of the Qaher F-313.
Despite the disputed account of the 2011 incident, the Washington Times seemed to take Iran’s latest claims seriously. But the report also concluded that Iran’s boastful claims about reverse-engineering foreign military technology could actually be a drag on the country’s military development over the long term, in that it might create disincentives for current allies like Russia and China to continue selling their military tech to the Islamic Republic.
Despite Iranian claims to the contrary, it is doubtful that purely domestic development would make up for the loss of access to Russian weapons like the S-300 missile defense system, the sale of which was interrupted by international sanctions but completed last year following the nuclear agreement. Many opponents of the Iranian regime have also suggested that the nuclear agreement provided hardline entities like the IRGC with a great deal more money for the purchase of military equipment.
And the Washington Times, referencing intelligence releases by the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran, indicates that IRGC expenditures on arms had already been steadily increasing, going from about three billion dollars in 2008 to 13 billion in 2015.
These increased expenditures almost certainly bolster the same sort of IRGC rhetoric that is on display in the commentary surrounding close encounters with the naval vessels of the United States and other traditionally Iranian adversaries. On Sunday, the Huffington Post published an editorial by Dr. Majid Rafizadeh of the International American Council on the Middle East, in which he said, “These incidents clearly highlight the fact that Iran is attempting to showcase its military power and regional preeminence to the United States.”
Rafizadeh also pointed to 14 ballistic missile tests since the conclusion of nuclear negotiations, as further evidence of Tehran’s bold notions about its military strength and its willingness to defy international will. The missile tests fly in the face of a UN Security Council resolution calling upon the Islamic Republic to avoid all work on weapons that are capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. But Rafizadeh alleges that the Iranian regime “believes all talks held with the purpose of countering Iran’s actions are simply rhetoric.”
This belief may very well be challenged by the Trump administration, which has already taken steps toward possibly having the IRGC listed as a foreign terrorist organization, which would inextricably lead to diminishment of its financial resources, especially where arms purchases are concerned.
Trump also ordered a raid against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen soon after taking office, thus highlighting the administration’s apparent willingness to directly confront Iranian military influence in the broader Middle East. This confrontation is likely to be seen as increasingly imperative, in light of the involvement of traditional American allies like Saudi Arabia in the conflict, as well as the lengthening reach of Houthi weapons that are largely provided by Iran and the IRGC.
On Monday, The Tower reported that the Houthi rebels has apparently planted a naval mine in the Bab al-Mandeb strait, killing two Yemeni sailors and wounding eight others, and highlighting the threat that the ongoing conflict could pose to international shipping lanes. To a great extent, this is merely an extension of existing threats that had been deliberately highlighted by Iran when it threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz to the US and its allies in the midst of the above-mentioned close encounters.