The Iranians released some images immediately after the incident, including photographs of the sailors kneeling on the deck of their boat with their hands behind their heads as Iranian forces pointed automatic weapons at them. Iranian state media also broadcast video of one of the sailors apologizing for the mistake of maneuvering off course.
These initial broadcasts were met with anger from some American officials and media commentators, some of whom pointed out that the distribution of such images during wartime would be regarded as a violation of the Geneva Conventions. The propaganda use of those images was given greater weight when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei conferred some of Iran’s highest military honors on the IRGC forces who seized the two small US vessels.
Fadavi’s remarks came shortly after this demonstration. In them, the naval commander threatened that Iran would release additional images in retaliation if the US made any effort to “humiliate” the Islamic Republic. On Wednesday, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty reported that these images, or some of them, had indeed been released, although it was not clear whether there was any prior incident that the Iranians considered this decision to be in reaction to.
Some of the images, which were also broadcast through Iran’s state media networks, appear to show one of the sailors wiping away tears. Samuel Werberg, a spokesperson for the US State Department quickly responded to the latest incident by stating that it was very clearly intended as a propaganda ploy by the Iranian government.
This comes on the heels of many prior incidents that appear to be indicative of a rising tide of anti-Western and particularly anti-American rhetoric coming out of Tehran, apparently in response to the perceived danger of cultural, economic, and political “infiltration” in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal. Supreme Leader Khamenei explicitly warned against such infiltration soon after the July 14 deal, and critics of the regime subsequently noted a surge in arrests of Iranian journalists, artists, and persons with connections to the West.
This crackdown has also apparently coincided with enhanced efforts to project Iranian military strength and to even portray Iran as being prepared to stand up to the United States in outright war. One talking point that has become notably prevalent in recent days is the notion that the US, which has sought some level of collaboration with Iran on such issues as the conflict with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, is dependent upon Iran’s leadership and consent in the Middle East.
On Wednesday, http://information.jokpeme.com/quoted Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the head of Iran’s Basij civilian militia as saying “the United States subordinates to Iran’s dominance in the Middle East and it cannot act in the region without getting the approval of the Supreme Leader of Iran.” But these remarks followed the lead established by the main Iranian driver of rapprochement between the US and Iran, namely President Hassan Rouhani.
Last month, during a trip to Italy and France, Rouhani accused the US of maintaining a hostile stance toward Iran and said that improvement in relations between the two countries would depend upon the US. He went on to say that such improvement would be in the interest of the US because it “cannot achieve anything [in the Middle East] without Iran’s influence or say.”
This is not the only piece of rhetoric that Rouhani has engaged in for the sake of demonstrating Iranian strength and defiance of the West. Only weeks after the conclusion of nuclear negotiations, Rouhani joined many other officials in declaring that Iran would not abide by US and UN resolutions restricting the expansion or testing of Iran’s ballistic missile stockpiles.
Last month, after the US imposed new economic sanctions in response to Iran’s October and November violations of these sanctions, Rouhani ordered Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan to greatly expand the country’s store of advanced ballistic missiles, which are capable of being armed with nuclear warheads.
Dehqan now claims to have followed through on this order, and the www.reuters.com/…/us-iran-military-missiles-idUSKC…reports that he recently announced that Iran would be unveiling a more advanced version of the Emad missile, which was the subject of the November test-firing, by the beginning of the Iranian New Year in March. Dehqan added that this advancement would emerge more or less at the same time as the long-anticipated delivery of an S-300 missile defense system from Russia.
On Tuesday, US National Intelligence Director James Clapper emphasized to Congress the significance of Iran’s defiance on the ballistic missile issue, saying that in the event of Iran’s decision to cheat on the nuclear deal and rush for a nuclear bomb, it would have the missiles with which to deliver such a bomb.
The Washington Free Beacon points out that Clapper left the question open as to whether Iran would actually take such a step, but he expressed no such doubt about the intention behind Iran’s recent missile tests and similar provocations. These, he said, were deliberate acts of defiance for the purpose of advancing Iranian propaganda.
In revisiting its seizure of American sailors, Tehran may be highlighting an increasing level of boldness in such acts of defiance. In January, Iran flew an unarmed drone aircraft over a US aircraft carrier. According to Gizmodo it was the first drone to do so since September 2014. And while the incident reportedly posed no threat to US naval forces and provided no meaningful intelligence to the Iranians, it seems quite likely that it is being used inside Iran as a means for the regime to claim that it is capable of engaging the world’s greatest superpower without consequence.
And while such acts of defiance may not pose any real threat to the US, at least over the short term, there are other activities with which Tehran appears to be striving to secure usable leverage over its traditional enemy. These activities are mostly economic and include a request to complete oil transactions in Euros instead of US dollars, in order to limit the power of the dollar over international commerce and also to prevent the US from having its usual capability to enforce sanctions.
This request was publicized earlier this week, but on Wednesday the Economic Times reported that Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh claimed that Iran’s emerging European partners would be willing to abide by that request. Previous reports emphasize that this is unlikely, in that it requires those European partners working around the established system for international transactions and possibly threatening political relations with the West. But the claim alone may further contribute to Iranian propaganda that describes the US as being subordinate to Iranian military and economic power.