Iran's special naval forces were equipped this weekend with new anti-ship cruise missiles capable of advanced precision and rapid deployment in the tense Gulf waters where occasional run-ins with the U.S. military have drawn international attention.
A large quantity of the natively produced projectiles, known as Nasir, were handed over to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy (IRGCN), the maritime branch of Iran's elite military forces that take command from the country's religious leadership rather than its political, in a formal ceremony held Saturday. The event was attended by the nation's top military brass including Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehghan and IRGCN Commander Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi.
"Equipping the Iranian naval forces with this missile marks an effective step toward increasing the country’s defensive capability and deterrence power," Dehghan said, according to a report by Press TV, an affiliate of Iran's Supreme Leadership Authority-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting agency.
Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting also released footage Saturday of what appeared to be an unarmed version of the projectile in action. The Nasir can be seen being launched by an attack boat and striking a barge, leaving a fiery impact, but no explosion, according to a report published Tuesday by leading security analysis group IHS Jane's 360. The missile, which could be mounted on small, fast-moving vessels, was capable of being rapidly deployed, flying at low altitudes and was equipped with advanced, radar-jamming technology, according to Dehghan.
The ceremony came less than a week after Iran showcased what it called a fifth-generation stealth fighter jet last Monday. The aircraft, known as Qaher F-313, was seen being driven on the ground, but not in flight, leading some Western critics to doubt whether the supposedly late model jet was capable of flying yet. Iran has long sought to develop its military in an effort to defend itself from the U.S. and allied Gulf Arab states, which accuse Iran of destabilizing the region and developing nuclear weapons. Iran has argued that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes and that its military expansion was exclusively for deterrence purposes.
The U.S. Navy's guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan fired a warning flare at an IRGCN vessel Monday that allegedly came within 1,100 yards of the U.S. warship in the Gulf. A spokesperson for the Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet told the Associated Press that the Navy repeatedly attempted to contact the vessel and ultimately fired the flare to "determine the Iranian vessel’s intentions." The naval forces of the two nations have occasionally gotten into tense stand-offs as Washington and Tehran disagree on regional affairs and their interpretation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a multilateral nuclear treaty signed in 2015 that lifted years of economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for severe restrictions on its nuclear program.
Cruise missiles, such as the Nasir, were permitted by U.N. Resolution 2231, which was passed after the nuclear deal and limited Iran's development of nuclear-capable projectiles, but there has been debate among security experts as to whether other ballistic missiles tests, such as those conducted in January, also were allowed. The 2015 U.N document said Iran was "called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons," but did not say it "shall not" do so like in previous U.N. resolutions against Iran, NPR reported.
A review by President Donald Trump into Iran's behavior since the 2015 international treaty found last week that Iran was in compliance with its terms, however, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson still condemned Iran for being "a leading state sponsor of terror through many platforms and methods," according to CNN. Last month, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran was "fully prepared to return to the pre-JCPOA situation or even [to conditions] more robust than that if the U.S. reneges on its promises," Press TV reported.
In addition to the IRGCN, which consists of about 20,000 personnel and 1,500 boats, Iran hosts a conventional naval forces of around 18,000 fighters with larger, more powerful vessels, according to a 2011 report by the Middle East Institute.
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