⏩ INTRODUCTION :
If, in fact, an armed conflict with Iran, including the least likely scenario of an open war, the key place of this battle would be the closing of the Persian Gulf of the Strait of Ormuz – probably the most important sea passage in the world, whose patency is of fundamental importance to the global economy.
The forceful closure of the Persian Gulf, by closing the Ormuz strait, is repeated from time to time by Iranian decision-makers – both military and political. For example, in February 2011, the commander of the naval forces of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, Rear Admiral Ali Fadawi said: “if we are in danger, we will close the Strait of Hormuz.” In December of the same year, Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi warned that “if sanctions are imposed on Iran’s oil exports, even a drop of oil will not flow through the Strait of Hormuz.” In June 2012, General Hasan Firuzabadi, the then chief of staff of the armed forces, threatened: “if our interests are threatened, we will close the Strait of Hormuz”. In July 2012, Deputy Rear Admiral Fadawi, Rear-Admiral Alirez Tangsiri, threatened: “if one day we come to the conclusion, that we can not use the entrance and exit from the strait, we will block it. ” In April 2016, General Hosejn Salami, deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, said: “In the event of a threat, Iran will close the Strait of Hormuz.”
Thus, the latest threats in this topic, which have been addressed so far by moderate President Hasan Rouhani, are difficult to perceive as something surprising and groundbreaking. It is only a repetition of a well-known narrative. It is worth noting at the same time that the president’s statement was very much welcomed by the anti-Western and anti-American conservative circles. For example, the commander of the Al-Kuds special forces, general Kasem Solejmani, wrote to Rouhani an open letter in which he recognized the president’s threat of blocking the Strait of Ormuz for “a reason to be proud.” The president’s words, which rejected the possibility of starting direct talks with Donald Trump (it was considered a sign of Iran’s capitulation), were also welcomed by the top Iranian leader, Khamenei,
⏩ CHARACTERISTICS OF THE RESERVOIR
The Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz are theaters of operations on which it is relatively easy to carry out a transit paralysis operation. In the deepest spot, the Persian Gulf only has 88 meters (the average is 50 meters). In the narrowest part of the Strait of Ormuz, it is 54 kilometers long. There are only two transitions deep enough for larger submersibles and surface vessels. The reservoir is relatively small – it has about 251,000 square kilometers, so less than the area of Italy or Poland. What’s more, the northern edge is also the coast of Iran, which controls the islands there, including Larak, and three small, but strategically located: Wielki Tunb and Mały Tunb, located between the trade routes and Abu Musa, lying south of the transit roads. At least some of the rocket-to-water missiles were deployed on some of them. An example of the military use of the islands is the island of Farsi, south of Abadan, with an area of 0.25 km2 , which is closed to civilians. During the war with Iraq in the eighties it was used by fast boats – now there is a sentry of the naval forces of the Guardians of the Revolutionary Corps.
During peace civil and military navigation proceed smoothly – even large VLCC class tankers pass through the straits, and, if necessary, aircraft carriers, for which the strait is deep enough. Nevertheless, large surface ships, but also underwater, are significantly limited in their maneuverability. This is especially true for aircraft carriers who have the highest firepower in the US Navy arsenal. Numerous shallows and islands not only make it difficult to navigate large ships, but also allow small units – fast boats, which Iran puts into service – to hide and attack with surprise. In favor of Iran can often occur in the region low visibility, caused by morning fog, salinity, high humidity or dust.
The Persian Gulf is too small and too shallow to allow submarines to operate there without the high risk of being detected and destroyed by ships and enemy planes. What’s more, the depth is greater on the Arab side than on the Iranian side. Topography of the bottom is also unfavorable, because it is flat – there are no significant precipices and elevations there, which would hinder the detection of underwater units. For this reason, Iran is forced to develop small submarines, which better than traditional units can work in local hydrophysical conditions. Despite their large size, also three conventional submarines of the 877EKM project could exploit the geographical conditions to operate near the Iranian sea borders, but rather from the east, not the waters of the Persian Gulf.
⏩ POSSIBLE OPERATIONAL SCENARIO
There are many things to say about Iranian military, but it’s certainly not that exaggerations are avoided in public statements. For example, in 2014 Rear Admiral Ali Fadawi warned that his army not only “fully controls the Strait of Ormuz”, but also “sink an American aircraft carrier in less than a minute”. Now the chief of staff of the armed forces of Iran, General Mohammad Bagheri, recalled that the US forces in the region are within the scope of operating the “overt and hidden defense force of Iran,” which is ready to give the Americans a devastating blow. Apart from the reality of such a scenario, let’s think about how Iran could try to block the Strait of Hormuz? Interestingly, the Iranians themselves often write about it, presenting methods and means to achieve such a goal.
While the regular navy (IRIN) remains a conventional force of the sea, the naval forces of the Guardian Revolutionary Corps (IRGCN) are systematically developed and transformed into “guerrillas” – in accordance with the reforms of 2007. In case of war, Iran would also use offensive tactics in maritime operations, in accordance with the “swarm strategy” assumptions. It would be based on the use of a large number of small but fast (and therefore hard to detect) boats armed with rockets (both maneuvering and unguided) and torpedoes. Marine mines, which can still be regarded as effective weapons for both terrorist and asymmetric operations, are an extremely important element of military operations, which results, among others, from the easiness of obtaining such weapons, a favorable cost-effect relationship, efficiency for different types of units and difficulty in detecting. Iran could place them in the water from the deck of war units (including submarines), but also civilian and aircraft. It is estimated that Iran purchased from 3 to 6 thousand min of Soviet / Russian, Chinese and North Korean production. Most of them are conventional mine mines with a contact fuse.
The Chinese EM-52 mines with a rocket engine, detecting a target based on acoustic, magnetic and pressure changes could be particularly dangerous. An illustration of the existing threat is the need for the United States to maintain a number of minesweepers and mine destroyers, as well as helicopters. The mining would have very serious political and economic consequences, as around 40 percent of the oil transported by sea flows through the Strait of Hormuz in the world. On the other hand, the effectiveness of the Iranian mine operation would reduce the relatively strong sea currents occurring there, which would change the location of the dam from drifting mines. Due to the relatively deep bottom, the use of mine bottoms would also not be too effective against surface vessels.
In the near future, depending on availability, Iran could also include in its maritime activities the massive use of unmanned aerial vehicles, armed with bombs and guided and unguided missiles and anti-ship missiles. According to Rear Admiral Aszkbusa Danechar, one of the founders of the doctrine of marine asymmetrical activities, Iran would also try to use special forces for sabotage operations aimed at numerous ports, power terminals, industrial installations and resources in the Gulf region. The most dangerous means of sea action are and will be anti-ship missiles, which are considered the most important element of maritime defense and as such remain under the control of the Revolutionary Guard Corps (both on surface platforms as well as on land and in the air),
It is obvious that Iran would not be able to destroy American forces in such an asymmetric clash, but that would not be the purpose of guerrilla operations, as North Vietnamese General Nguyên Giáp did not try to achieve. As he said, the main task of his army was not to “push half a million American soldiers” from Vietnam, but to “break the will of the American government to continue the war.” This mechanism could be repeated by Iran – the more so as the United States, like any democracy, is particularly sensitive to its own losses, which has been proved several times – even in Somalia or earlier in Lebanon. Using the element of surprise and determination, Iran could damage or even sink the US Navy ship at the narrow entrance of the Ormuz strait. It would be a powerful psychological blow to the power of the United States.
On the other hand, it should be remembered that Americans are well aware of the reservoir and its specificity, and also have secure transition routes. It is not known whether the US Navy would operate aircraft carriers in the event of war, as according to the doctrine in case of a significant threat, the group should operate at least 200 nautical miles offshore, which would prevent a secret attack from Iran, while not significantly limiting the free operation of US aircraft and without having to additional refueling. Secondly, Iranian armed forces do not have anti-ship missiles that could sink an aircraft carrier, and are also struggling with the lack of modern reconnaissance systems, and these would be crucial to ensure operational awareness in real time.
⏩ WHAT’S NEXT ?
Surely what is always – threats will not be realized, because on both sides – in both Tehran and Washington – the pragmatic decision-makers are nonetheless governed, though with unfulfilled career ambitions as dramatic actors. Iran knows perfectly well that the closure of the Strait of Hormuz, even if it succeeds, will only be temporary and would constitute a double-edged weapon. Iran – as a country dependent on oil exports along this route – would suffer very serious economic consequences. Although IRIN’s commander, Rear Admiral Habibollah Sajjari, stated that closing the basin would be “easier than drinking water”, in practice it would be a logistically complex task (especially maintaining long-term paralysis). What’s more, it would most likely lead to an armed response from the United States, which would have won the naval battle fairly quickly.
⏩(By : Robert Czulda, www.defence24.pl )
⏩ Photo: Airforce Division
⏩ About the Author : Robert Czulda is Assistant Professor (Political Studies Institute, University of Lodz, Poland) and freelance journalist (Defence, International Security, Middle East)