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New IRGC Provocations in the Persian Gulf

American foreign policy analysts and military officials have commented upon the current situation by observing that Iran’s activities have not changed in any significant way since the Trump administration issued its threatening statement in the wake of Iran’s latest test launch of a nuclear capable ballistic missile. Reports like the one published by Fox News may even suggest that those activities have intensified as Tehran maintains a defiant tone in the face of American criticisms and ultimatums.

The report indicates that the Iranians conducted two more ballistic missile tests over the weekend – these ones involving short-range missiles aimed at naval targets. According to Fox, it was the first test of the given model of ballistic missile to be carried out by the Islamic Republic in two years. However, the previous test of a medium-range weapon makes these the second and third ballistic missile tests to be conducted since President Trump was inaugurated, and also the eighth and ninth to be conducted since the conclusion of nuclear negotiations between Iran and six world powers led by the United States.

The report also notes that these new demonstrations took place approximately a week after Iran successfully tested a portion of the S-300 missile system that was delivered to Iran by Russia soon after such weapons transfers were made legal once again by the nuclear agreement. The ongoing provocations led Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton to comment upon the apparent need for more than mere words as a means of confronting the Islamic Republic and convincing it to cease these types of provocations.

The missile tests do not stand alone in motivating this response. The Fox News report notes, and the New York Daily News provides more detail regarding another incident that occurred this weekend, in which a number of fast attack boats belonging to the naval forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps positioned themselves approximately 600 yards away from a US Navy tracking ship and three British vessels that were transiting the Persian Gulf alongside it.

The Iranian vessels reportedly ignored all attempts at radio contact, and the American and British ships were compelled to change course in order to avoid a closer confrontation. The incident occurred only about two days after CBS News reported that a Frigate belonging to the Iranian Navy, which is separate from the IRGC Navy, passed within 150 yards of the same American vessel while both were in the Gulf of Oman. Both incidents were described by US officials as “unprofessional,” although they stopped short of characterizing either incident as explicitly dangerous.

However, these situations are reminiscent of other close encounters – some of them even closer and more threatening – initiated by Iran. In some such incidents, IRGC fast attack vessels have ignored radio contact along with warning lights and auditory sirens while approaching American warships at a high rate of speed. In those cases, the IRGC vessels only disengaged when warning shots were fired by the Iranians. This, naturally, raises the possibility of a miscalculation leading to actual spontaneous outbreak of hostilities.

Realistically, this is not a threat that the inferior Iranian armed forces are keen to make real, but the IRGC and other Iranian hardliners are certainly attempting to convey the message – to one another and to certain regional audiences – that they are ready for war, even with the world’s leading military superpower. In one noteworthy example of this ongoing propaganda, the Islamic Republic recently released a film titled “Battle of the Persian Gulf II,” depicting a commander modeled after IRGC Quds Force leader Qassem Suleimani leading a small Iranian naval force to victory over a larger American fleet.

The Trump administration has yet to clarify its response to this propaganda and the associated provocations, in line with the recommendations being put forth by Senator Cotton and others. But the White House has initiated the process that could lead to the IRGC being designated as a foreign terrorist organization and therefore blacklisted from most international transactions. Among critics of the Iranian regime, it appears to be widely hoped that this will counteract the effects of economic sanctions under the Iran nuclear deal and diminish the international role and regional provocations of the IRGC.