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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Iran’s Show of Force Aimed at Pressuring the Nuclear Talks

Filed under: Iran, Israeli Security, Radical Islam, The Middle East, U.S. Policy

The deputy Revolutionary Guards commander reveals Iran’s strategy, which combines military threats with diplomatic talks in an attempt to wring concessions from the West on the development of Iran’s nuclear program and the lifting of sanctions.

At the end of February Iran conducted a wide-ranging military exercise in the Persian Gulf, including the area of the Strait of Hormuz, which it dubbed “Mighty Prophet 9.” Among other things, the exercise simulated the attack and destruction of an American aircraft carrier and the mining of the Persian Gulf waters, with the air force, navy, and ground forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) taking part, along with the firing of ballistic missiles and shore-to-sea missiles.

While Iran negotiates an agreement with the West on its nuclear program, it holds naval exercises near the Straits of Hormuz, sinking a mock-up of the USS Nimitz, an American aircraft carrier. (AFP Photo/Fars News/Hamed Jafarnejad)
While Iran negotiates an agreement with the West on its nuclear program,
it holds naval exercises near the Straits of Hormuz, sinking a mock-up of the
USS Nimitz, an American aircraft carrier. (AFP Photo/Fars News/Hamed Jafarnejad)

In an interview posted on March 5, 2015 on the IRGC’s official site, deputy IRGC commander Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami presented the Iranian strategy as evidenced by the objectives of the military exercise. The following are his main points:1

An attempt to influence the nuclear talks: Salami noted that the exercise was aimed at conveying a message to the enemies of Iran who have been threatening a military option and economic sanctions. He said the exercise showed that Iran’s hands are not tied in the face of such threats, and that it is capable of acting in different theaters of the world and countering threats on the strategic, operative, and tactical levels.

The timing of the exercise was not arbitrary: The current circumstances, Salami said, required Iran to demonstrate its power since, at the same time as they conduct negotiations, its enemies are still using a language of threats, continuing a “cultural invasion,” and seeking to diminish Iran’s power and influence in the Middle East. He emphasized that developing a military capability is vital even when Iran is acting in diplomatic channels, and that doing so was one of the aims of the exercise.

Deterring the West from acting militarily against Iran: According to Salami, the military exercise displayed part of Iran’s military capability so that enemies would take it into account and the West would realize it would end up the big loser in any offensive operation. Salami said the Iranian army was preparing itself for the most dangerous scenarios, seeking to compensate for its military inferiority to the United States by exploiting relative advantages. In that context Salami mentioned the option of mining the Persian Gulf, as well as the ability the Iranian army has gained to attack and destroy American aircraft carriers with precise ballistic (Khalij Fars) missiles and shore-to-sea missiles, which can be fired simultaneously from numerous launchers along the Persian Gulf. Salami also remarked that foreign media reports on the exercise indicate that the Iranian messages were well understood in the West even though not all aspects of Iran’s military capability were uncovered.

Brigadier General Hossein Salami
Brigadier General Hossein Salami

Salami’s statements reveal the Iranian strategy of establishing its status as regional power through a rapid military buildup and show of force. The aim is to dissuade the West from a military operation against Iran and to persuade it, through a language of threats, to lift the economic sanctions.

In other words, Iran wants to convey that the price of failing to reach a nuclear agreement will likely be very high for the West and will not be limited to the area of the Persian Gulf. Hence Iran is not hiding its intention to attack the American fleet in the Gulf, particularly aircraft carriers, and to block all maritime traffic in its waters by hitting such traffic directly with naval craft and extensive mining.

Evidently the Iranian regime assesses that the United States and the European states are not interested in deepening their military involvement in the Middle East, instead seeking arrangements that will foster relative stability and prevent chaos that would endanger their interests. Thus, Iran wants to signal that it is the rising power in the Middle East, with which one must conduct dialogue while taking its regional interests into account.

Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states, however, feel directly threatened by Iran’s military power and expansionist goals in the region. That was the context in which, last week, Saudi King Salman met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to discuss the possibility of renewing the Arab League’s mutual defense pact against external threats. Saudi Arabia, upset at the close relationship forged by the ruling Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in 2012, supported the Egyptian military’s ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood.  Today, Saudi Arabia is granting the Egyptian army a central role in the defensive configuration against Iran (while continuing talks with Pakistan about possibly purchasing nuclear weapons as a threat balancer).

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