Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned the U.S. and other “bullying powers” that Iran was developing offensive and defensive capabilities to deal with all threats, but would not produce chemical or nuclear weapons.
After touring an exhibition by Iran’s defense industries, Khamenei urged that arms development programs be accelerated “so that the bullying powers would feel threatened,” the semi-official Fars News Agency reported.
Separately, Iran’s Air Defense Commander Brig. Gen. Farzad Esmaili warned that any adversary violating Iran’s air and sea boundaries would face destruction.
“Undoubtedly, if the enemies grow stupid and think of aggression against the sacred borders of our country, a hell will rise for them on the ground and in the sky and the sea in the Islamic Iran,” Esmaili said in a statement on the anniversary of the formation of Iran’s Air Defense force, reported the Tasnim news agency, which has strong links to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Esmaili also said that Iran’s new “Nazir” radar system had recently become operational to detect stealth aircraft and would be particularly effective against U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles and U-2 Dragon Lady spy planes.
“Nazir radar system was put into operation and from now on no radar-evading flying object can enter the Islamic Iran’s skies without permission,” he said. “The radar is special to detecting the small flying objects and MQ-1, RQ-4 and U-2 aircrafts and can easily detect and trace ballistic and cruise missiles and most importantly, the radar-evading aircraft.”
The warnings from Iran came a day after U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, issued his own warning that Iran’s recent harassment of U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf — Votel repeatedly called it the “Arabian Gulf” — could get out of control in ways that Iran would regret.
At a Pentagon news conference, Votel said the “unsafe” and “unprofessional” actions by fast-attack boats of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in swarming around Navy ships had been going on periodically, but there had been an increase in such incidents in recent months.
Votel said he witnessed Revolutionary Guard boats ignoring warnings to back off while aboard the amphibious assault ship New Orleans in the Gulf last month. “What I call on Iran to do is to be the professional force that they claim to be,” Votel said. “Professional militaries, professional maritime forces don’t operate in that way.”
“And what we see with the Iranians is not particularly responsible. It is provocative, in some cases. It’s unsafe. And it can lead to situations where we may not be able to de-escalate in a time before something happens,” Votel said.
On Aug. 23, four armed Revolutionary Guard patrol boats sped to within 300 yards of the guided-missile destroyer USS Nitze near the Strait of Hormuz. The Nitze fired flares as a warning and the boats withdrew, according to the Navy’s Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain.
A day later, three more Revolutionary Guard boats ran tight circles around the Cyclone-class U.S. coastal patrol ships USS Tempest and USS Squall. One Iranian boat sped toward Tempest on a collision course, which compelled Squall to fire three warning shots with a heavy machine gun.
The Iranian boats withdrew, only to return later the same day and harass the guided-missile destroyer USS Stout.
In a statement at the time, Navy Cmdr. Bill Urban, a spokesman for the Fifth Fleet, said, “This situation presented a drastically increased risk of collision, and the Iranian vessel refused to safely maneuver in accordance with internationally recognized maritime rules of the road, despite several requests and warnings via radio, and visual and audible warnings.”
Votel said the Iranian motives for the harassing actions were unclear. “I don’t think I can get inside the mind of the Iranian regime and the IRGC to understand exactly what they’re thinking in terms of their actions,” he said.
Votel distinguished between the IRGC and the regular Iranian navy, saying that encounters with Iranian navy ships had been conducted in a professional manner.
The IRGC and its fast attack boats generally operate in the Gulf while the Iranian Navy operates outside the strategic waterway through which much of the world’s oil passes, said Chris Harmer, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War and a retired naval officer who was deputy director of future operations in the Fifth Fleet.
Harmer said the IRGC was repeatedly sending out what he called a “standard harassment package” of small boats against the U.S. ships, which he said were responding with “an overabundance of professionalism and caution.”
Harmer said the U.S. should make clear to the Iranians what the rules of engagement will be: at 500 yards, flares; at 400 yards, warning shots; at 300 yards, “we will sink you.”
“The Iranians periodically do this,” Barbara Slavin, acting director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, said of the harassment actions by the IRGC small boats. The incidents could reflect internal politics in Iran, where varying sides are jockeying for position and influence in the presidential elections scheduled for next year, Slavin said.
Hardliners in Iran who back the IRGC, which acts independently from the Iranian navy, could also be attempting to use the incidents in the Gulf to show their opposition to the deal last year with the U.S. to rein in Iran’s nuclear programs, Slavin said. The intent would be to show that signing the deal “doesn’t mean they’re defenseless,” she said.
In his remarks in Tehran at the defense exhibit, Khamenei said that arms development should proceed at all levels, but “the manufacture of the weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear and chemical weapons is definitely prohibited on the basis of [Iran’s] ideological and religious beliefs.”
“Apart from these limitations, there is no restriction in other fields for increasing our defense and military capabilities, and progress in these fields is a duty,” Khamenei said.