With two US aircraft carriers close to its shores and rising tensions at sea, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) decided to remind the world of its potent naval strike capabilities, including the Zolfaghar anti-ship missile, which has a purported 700-kilometer (434-mile) range.
IRGC Navy commander Rear Adm. Alireza Tangsiri noted earlier this week that the elite paramilitary force has considerably advanced its offensive capabilities in recent years, enabling it to strike targets far from Iranian shores.
“Once the farthest range of our naval missiles did not exceed 45 kilometers, and even that was reached with the help of American military advisors,” Tangsiri said on Monday, Iran’s Fars News Agency reported. “However, we have developed subsurface and surface-to-surface missiles with a range of 700 kilometers, which have been totally made by domestic military experts.”
Tangsiri almost certainly refers to the Zolfaghar missile, a solid-fueled ballistic missile capable of striking land or sea targets up to 700 kilometers away. The Zolfaghar, which is named after the sword “spine cleaver” that belonged to Shia Islam founder Ali ibn abi-Talib, is based on the Fateh 110 road-mobile ballistic missile.
In January, the IRGC prepared a mock-up of a US aircraft carrier to be used for further target practice, Sputnik reported.
Weeks of US War Drills
The admiral’s comments come amid increased tensions in the region, including the arrival of another US aircraft carrier and persistent military drills in the Persian Gulf by the US and its regional Arab allies.
Earlier this month, the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan arrived in the Persian Gulf with a Marine expeditionary force. The warship is not only capable of embarking thousands of US Marines for an amphibious landing, but it also functions as an aircraft carrier, launching more than two dozen helicopters and airplanes from its flight deck. The Bataan joined the Nimitz-class supercarrier USS Eisenhower in the region, though the larger Eisenhower has remained in the Arabian Sea. Together, the two warships could launch more than 100 aircraft for strikes against Iran.
Amphibious assault ship USS Bataan #LHD5 in the Persian Gulf on April 5, 2020.
Aircraft on flight deck include
3 CH-53E Super Stallion with 2 external fuel tanks
11 MV-22B Osprey (VMM 365 Reinforced)
2 MH-60S Sea Hawk (HSC 28)
5 AV-8B Harrier (VMA 542) one with 4 ext. fuel tank. pic.twitter.com/wkx7b1JsPB
— Mehdi H. (@mhmiranusa) April 9, 2020
The US has conducted live-fire drills for more than a month in the Persian Gulf, a waterway along Iran’s coast that is about 200 miles across at its widest point. Last month, the US Navy ran drills in which AC-130 gunships practiced attack runs on small naval vessels like those used by the IRGC Navy; the US Army also ran live-fire HIMARS rocket drills with the Emirati armed forces.
Tehan Protests ‘Unprofessional, Provocative Actions’
Tehran has repeatedly voiced its displeasure at the American presence, especially as Washington maintains its policy of “maximum pressure,” attempting to force the Iranian people to choose between enduring crippling economic sanctions or overthrowing their anti-American government.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Monday during a news conference that “we firstly call on the foreign forces, who are present in the region illegitimately, to end their presence here. We want them to leave the region as soon as possible, whatever may be the motive for their presence here.”
IRGC naval forces have also sailed close to US warships on multiple occasions, prompting US protests. In one incident last week, 11 IRGC vessels circled and weaved between half a dozen US warships, including the colossal expeditionary mobile base vessel USS Lewis B. Puller, which itself functions as a sort of aircraft carrier. The American warships were engaged in combat drills involving US Army AH-64E Apache attack helicopters.
The IRGC afterward blasted “the unprofessional and provocative actions of the United States and their indifference to warnings” in a statement published on its news site, Sepah News.
In another incident days earlier, IRGC sailors videotaped close-up shots of US warships in the USS Bataan’s strike force.
#UPDATE : Iran has published footage of escorting a group of US Navy ships by the IRGC in the Persian Gulf on the night of April 6-7, 2020.
— Sushmit Patil Сушмит Патил सुश्मित पाटिल (@PatilSushmit) April 19, 2020
Since the election of US President Donald Trump in late 2016, US-Iran relations have steadily worsened, with Trump claiming Tehran had violated the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal. In 2018, punishing US economic sanctions were reinstated against Iran, and in 2019 and 2020, a series of war scares gripped the region as dozens of US warships and thousands of troops poured into the Middle East, leading to a series of tense incidents including the shootdown of a US spy drone.
Washington has claimed the IRGC is behind a series of setbacks for US foreign policy spanning the region from Yemen to Syria and Iraq, and in early January, the US assassinated the IRGC’s commander, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, in an airstrike in Baghdad while he was there to push forward deescalation talks with Saudi Arabia. Retaliatory strikes against US forces in Iraq by Iran followed.