An authoritative Iranian security figure, the spokesman-cum-commentator at Iran’s defense ministry, Gen. Reza Naghdi, warned Monday night, Nov. 12 that, if Iran were attacked, its navy – and its submarine fleet in particular – could come close enough to “reach an Israeli coastal target.”
In that case, Iran would feel free to retaliate, said the general, not necessarily with missiles or martyrs, as widely expected, but from the sea.
This is the first mention by any Iranian official of a possible attack on Israel’s coastal towns – with Tel Aviv the outstanding target.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources report that Iran has been experimenting with missiles fired from submarines since August 2006. Its navy is capable of shooting from underwater a Russian “Sizzler” Klub-S (3M54) missile which has a range of 300 kilometers and a powerful 450-kilogram warhead. It is launched from the submarine’s 533mm (21 inch) torpedo tubes.
General Naghdi’s threat should be taken seriously because, as a respected military authority with a national reputation, he must be presumed to know what he is talking about.
At the same time, our military experts make certain points that shed light on the Iranian navy’s operational capabilities and its ability to relocate subs to Mediterranean waters – especially in view of the challenges facing Iran from US Gulf and Arabian Sea naval forces:
Assets and drawbacks
1. Size. Iran’s submarine fleet consists of 6 Kilo class craft, of which only three or four are serviceable. Another 12 submarines of the same class are on order from China, but there is no information that any of them has entered service or even been delivered.
Western naval experts say that Iran will need to keep all of its three or four operational subs close at hand in case of an American attack or a decision by Tehran to blockade the Straits of Hormuz, the only exit for shipping from the Persian Gulf.
The Iranian navy has none to spare for other arenas, unless a strategic decision is taken in Tehran to send a sub or two to the Mediterranean to hit American or Israeli naval shipping or the Israeli coast, even at the expense of its Gulf resources.
The Revolutionary Guards Corps is known to have built a large fleet of mini-subs and special marine units equipped with fast boats for deployment in the Persian Gulf. They might partly free up the larger Kilo subs for this option.
The Kilo class submarine’s displacement is up to 4,000 tons submerged. It is 74 meters long, has a maximum speed of up to 30 knots surfaced, diving depth of 300 meters and range of more than 12,100 km. The Kilo carries a crew of 52 sailors and, depending on the type, is armed with six to eight 533 mm torpedo tubes, 24 mines and air defense missiles. The Kilo submarines’ quiet engines enable them to appear and disappear like wraiths, winning them the name of Black Hole from the US Navy.
Via Suez or around Africa?
2. Getting there undetected. On the other hand, they cannot be easily moved to the Mediterranean without being picked up by American and Israeli naval and aerial intelligence surveillance. To get there, the Iranian submarines must pass through the Suez Canal or circumnavigate Africa.
3. Refueling. If the second route is chosen, the subs will need to refuel en route. Assuming that no African nation will agree to refuel an Iranian submarine, certainly not on the quiet, Iran is believed to be trying to set up refueling facilities from floating tankers.
No information has reached our military sources confirming that Iran is acting to expand its long-range refueling facilities, although this cannot be ruled out.
Once in the Mediterranean, whether one or more Iranian submarines get through, their troubles are over, because they can put in at Syrian’s naval bases for fuel and provisions.
4. Hostile waters. At the same time, the Mediterranean is teeming with hostile US, NATO and Israeli shipping. Even the slippery Kilo sub will find it hard to evade pursuers or stalkers. Sending a missile against an Israeli coastal town will broadcast the submarine’s presence far and wide to all its enemies, and therefore amount to a suicide mission.
5. Radioactive warheads. Of extreme concern to US and Israeli war planners is the possibility of an Iranian submarine reaching the Mediterranean on a mission to fire missiles armed with radioactive warheads.