This week’s follow up to Salami’s comments seem to serve at least in part as a response to the US’s dismissal. Speaking through Iran’s state media, Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, the commander of the IRGC’s naval forces, said that the US remains unaware of many of the capabilities of those forces, such as the specifications of their surface-to-air missiles.
But in addition to intimating that the Islamic Republic has heretofore hidden military capabilities, Fadavi also insisted that what is already known by the US is sufficient to make Iran capable of directly challenging US naval forces in the Persian Gulf. “Americans are aware that Iran would destroy their warships if they take a wrong measure in the region,” he said, adding, “Americans can feel the presence of IRGC navy forces at any spot.”
Such commentary is commonplace among public statements by IRGC officials, who frequently strive to portray Iranian military forces as being much stronger and more modern than they are in fact, and specifically as being ready for direct confrontation with the US and its allies. Many of the particular claims backing up this rhetoric are easily falsifiable in the international media, but may not be contradicted among large portions of the Iranian public, which is subject to severe media censorship, thereby limiting competition with the regime’s elaborate propaganda networks.
State media remains under the direct control of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and this fact was made particularly clear on Wednesday when the Associated Press reported that the previous head of state broadcasting, Mohammad Sarfaraz, had been replaced after approximately two years on the job. It was not immediately clear why he had been ousted from his position, or on what basis Abdolali Ali Asgari was chosen as his successor, although it is known that Sarfaraz had recently complained about a lack of funding.
What is clear is that Sarfaraz was removed on the direct order of the supreme leader, who also hand-picked his successor. Whatever changes this may produce in the content of state media broadcasts, it is all but certain that the above-mentioned provocative rhetoric about the United States will continue to be a regular feature. That is to say, the media interviews with IRGC figures directly reflect the anti-Western statements that have recently been pouring out of office of the supreme leader.
Since the conclusion of nuclear negotiations in July, Khamenei has taken pains to counter the notion that this development could lead to broader reconciliation between the Islamic Republic and its lifelong Western adversaries. As those negotiations were concluding, he barred his officials from negotiating with the US over anything other than the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and in a speech coinciding with the Iranian New Year in March, Khamenei warned, “Those who say the future is in negotiations and not in missiles are either ignorant or traitors.”
Khamenei’s rhetorical foreign policy preoccupation was described and broadly criticized on Wednesday in an editorial published at Rudaw. The author justified a certain level of hardline wariness of the US, but concluded that Khamenei was setting his foreign policies on the basis of fear and paranoia, and not prudent skepticism. The article went on to suggest that Iran could benefit greatly from moderating its policies in order to court more American-led reconciliation, but also that this is extremely unlikely to happen under Khamenei’s hardline Islamist leadership.
The effects of that leadership are presumably evident in the rhetorical commentary and outright threats coming from the IRGC and other hardline groups and individuals, who are necessarily given special attention in the media. Under a new head of state broadcasting, that media can be expected to continue boasting of Iran’s military advancements. And these boasts can be expected to remain largely, although not exclusively, false.
At the same time that the IRGC and its affiliates have been claiming massive internal military development, some verifiable advancements have actually taken place, although these are mostly attributable to purchases of weapons from foreign countries. Most notably, the Washington Free Beacon reported on Wednesday that the Russian-made S-300 missile defense system had recently been installed at Khatam al-Anbia Air Defense Base, after last month’s long-delayed delivery of the first components of that system.
Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan also claimed that Iran was moving quickly toward the production of a domestically-made copy of that weapon, which is capable of engaging multiple aerial targets from a distance of hundreds of kilometers. The state of Israeli and its advocates have previously expressed concern that Iran’s possession of such weapons, while not constituting an additional offensive threat, would limit the potential effectiveness of a future strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities if that was deemed necessary by Iran’s sudden progress toward a nuclear weapon.