A senior Iranian commander sternly admonished an Omani general in Tehran Tuesday, May 15, the day Saudi Arabia failed to persuade top Gulf rulers meeting in Riyadh to go for federation as a bulwark against the common Iranian menace. (See the separate item in this issue.)
In an exceptionally harsh warning, Rear Adm. Ali Fadavi, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy, confronted Brig. Gen. Rashid bin Saif al-Shidi, Oman’s Assistant Chief of Staff, with a warning: “The Islamic Republic of Iran carefully and completely scrutinizes the actions of countries lining up with US objectives in the [Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz] region.”
Countries in the region, said the Iranian admiral, “should not prepare the ground for the US to carry out evil acts.” Regional interaction, he said, was the only proper course in this regard.
That ominous tone jarred badly with the upbeat outlook of progress in the nuclear talks six world powers are holding with Iran and, more particularly, with the satisfied comments of Ali Ashgar Soltanieh Iran’s ambassador at the International Atomic Energy Agency, on the IAEA meeting he had just attended in Vienna.
He said that Iran continues to insist on a comprehensive plan on what (nuclear sites) may be visited and when. However, he informed reporters of “progress… regarding the preparation of modalities of a framework for resolving our outstanding issues.”
Why did the Iranian diplomat in Vienna speak of a “fruitful discussion in a very conducive environment,” on the same day as the Iranian admiral in Tehran beat the war drums?
Tehran rattled by UAE Air Force exercise
One important cause of the dissonance is that this week Iran had one eye on the chances of “fruitful diplomacy” and the other on two separate major military and naval exercises conducted secretly by the United Arab Emirates and Israel.
The UAE has the biggest and most powerful air force in the Persian Gulf, topping even Saudi air might. Iran doesn’t even run close.
The UAEAF fleet of 500 fighter-bombers includes the most advanced warplanes of any world power: F-16s and Mirage 2000-9s, attack and freight helicopters, refueling aircraft and sophisticated spy planes. The force is served by nearly 6,000 personnel.
Alarm bells began jangling in Tehran when the entire UAE air force, in conjunction with the US F-22 stealth planes just landed at the emirate’s Al Dhafra Air Base and French stealth Rafale Cs, launched a secret exercise on the same eventful May 15. The Iranians were seriously rattled when those powerful air formations practiced offensive sorties over, no less, the Strait of Hormuz and the three islands controlling access to this narrow channel – Abu Musa, Greater Tanb and Lesser Tanb.
Tehran is still fighting back the UAE’s recent clamor to restore to its sovereignty the three islands, which it claims Iran has illegally occupied.
The view of the Persian Gulf from Tehran was therefore extremely unsettling.
Israel’s air-navy drill aimed at precluding a dirty bomb attack by sea
The UAEAF is obviously a smarter tactical candidate for an air strike against Iran than the Saudi Air Force, in view of the advanced capabilities of its F-16s and Mirage 2000-9s compared to the Saudi F-15s.
If Washington and Paris really were training UAE pilots for joint operations with the most accomplished US air crews and advanced warplanes, then Iranian strategists were forced to deduce that the Obama administration was getting set and preparing the Gulf emirates for going to war with Iran in the very short term.
Tehran was no less concerned by Israel’s big Air Force-Navy exercise on the Mediterranean which wound up two days earlier on Sunday, May 13. The Navy also deployed its elite Shayetet 13, 916 Detachment and the Snapir unit for the drill and the Air Force, its Shaldag unit.
Those forces practiced the interception and seizure of a flotilla of enemy vessels bent on invading Israel’s territorial waters and making for the Israeli coastal cities, which are inhabited by about 60 percent of the country’s population.
The country was largely unaware of this exercise which based itself on the working hypothesis held by Israeli intelligence and military strategists that, without waiting to perfect a nuclear warhead, Iran may try and attack Israel with dirty bombs dropped from civilian vessels approaching Israel’s shores and crewed by Iranian, Syrian or Hizballah combatants. (See the first article opening this issue.)
The Israeli exercise ended with the deployment of warships in a defensive line the length of its Mediterranean coast, sending a message to Tehran that its seaborne dirty bomb strike option has been precluded.
Iran’s drills switch to offensive mode with first paratroop drops
The exercise also had an intelligence facet.
Middle East war games have evolved into a language of communication among enemies and a form of upmanship – each party sending out signals meant to be picked up by its foes, either as a warning or to prove it had gained the upper hand. So was Israel’s Mediterranean exercise also informing Iran that its plans to launch an attack by sea had been discovered by Israeli undercover agencies?
Tehran’s rejoinder to US, Gulf and Israeli military movements was not long in coming.
Monday, May 14, Iran’s special forces and Revolutionary Guards units broke new ground with a two-day offensive war game in which, for the first time, they practiced parachuting substantial strength from the air deep inside enemy territory remote from its shores.
The maneuver took place in Khorasan province near the Afghan border. It carried a single strong message: Iran was no longer keeping to the defensive mode; henceforth, the Islamic Republic will be acting on the offensive.
Just as the Americans, Arabs and Israelis were expanding their military options against Iran, Tehran had accordingly gone back to considering a possible pre-emptive strike against its enemies on their soil.
The Iranian exercise made this plain by sending air force cargo planes across long distances from one part of Iran to another, carrying large numbers of paratroopers and special forces units, while fighter-bombers practiced blanket raids on small target areas and assault helicopters showed their paces in the rapid transfer of troops from one point to another, landing them at speed under air cover.