On Monday, it was reported that the Iranian Defense Minister had threatened that if provoked, Iran would launch attacks against Saudi Arabia with the goal of destroying everything except the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. At the same time, it was also reported that the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Army had asserted the authority to make military incursions into Pakistan in pursuit of terrorist targets.
These threats come on the heels of a long series of reports detailing bellicose Iranian behavior in the region. Apart from its longstanding support of the Assad regime in Syria and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, the Islamic Republic has also made provocative moves against Western vessels transiting the Persian Gulf, in some cases refusing to withdraw from US Navy warships until warning shots were fired.
In the midst of these confrontations, officials of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the regular Iranian military have also publicly threatened the closure of the Strait of Hormuz, in response to any perceived threats from the US or its allies. At the time, it was generally accepted that Iran lacked the military means to back up this threat, although it could do damage to Western assets through tactics of asymmetrical warfare, especially in light of the narrow confines of the strait.
In addition to the asymmetrical threat from things such as naval mines, there has been a notable trend of military buildup as Iran seeks to reinforce its threats of conventional force. Some of the country’s claimed military advances have been dismissed as mere theater, but it is not always easy to differentiate between mock-ups made for propaganda purposes and actual weapons development.
Some of the more plausible military claims refer to domestically produced weapons that appear to be based on the design of Russian weapons acquired by the Islamic Republic in previous years. This is the case, for instance, with a new high-speed torpedo that Iran tested in the Strait of Hormuz. According to Business Insider, the Hoot torpedo is a variant on the Russian Shkval, which is capable of speeds up to 250 miles per hour and a range of six miles.
Business Insider notes that Shkval variants can be loaded into any vessel in the existing Iranian submarine force, and the article also points out that some of those submarines are based on North Korean designs, a fact that calls attention to the threat of further military cooperation between Iran and North Korea, as well as between Iran and Russia. This issue was also raised in an article at the Washington Free Beacon, with particular reference to the persistent threat of a theoretical Iranian nuclear weapon.
The article quoted American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Rubin as saying that Iran and North Korea tend to share nuclear technology like “an old married couple sharing a toothbrush,” and it suggested that this was of serious concern not only in light of Pyongyang’s recent provocations but also in light of signs that Iran is continuing illicit nuclear weapons work in spite of the nuclear agreement that it implemented with six world powers at the beginning of 2016.
The latest sign of that trend, according to the Free Beacon, is Iran’s recent announcement of its intention to launch two satellites, a move that some believe to be cover for the testing of missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. “The expertise needed to launch satellites into space is similar to that needed to properly launch intercontinental ballistic missiles, which could potentially reach U.S. soil,” the article explained.
In parallel with the implementation of the nuclear agreement, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the United Nations Security Council called upon Iran to avoid work on weapons designed to be capable of carrying a nuclear payload. But Iran has repeatedly dismissed this call, having carried out more than half a dozen ballistic missile tests since JCPOA negotiations concluded. One such test in January apparently prompted a statement by the White House putting Iran “on notice” over its destabilizing activities in the region.
Last month, the intelligence network of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran released information indicating that the government institution tasked with the weaponization aspects of the Iranian nuclear program was still engaged in illicit activities, including research at the Parchin military base, which was a source of considerable suspicion and discord near the end of the seven-party nuclear talks.