Against the backdrop of the accelerated diplomatic contacts in advance of the fourth round of Security Council sanctions against Iran, and following U.S. President Barack Obama's implied threat of a nuclear attack against Iran, Iran conducted two extensive naval maneuvers in quick succession, in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.
The first exercise, Great Prophet V, was conducted by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), April 22-25, 2010; the second, the eight-day Velayat 89, was launched on May 5 by the Iranian Army's naval corps, on 250,000 square kilometers stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Sea of Oman and the northern part of the Indian Ocean. With these maneuvers, it seems that Tehran is seeking to show the deterrent strength and continuous presence in international waters of its two militaries – the IRGC and the army – against what it perceives to be an intensification of threats against it.
It should be noted that immediately after the conclusion of the IRGC maneuvers, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei promoted IRGC naval deputy commander Ali Fadavi to the post of commander – which might indicate that his predecessor has been discharged.
Senior political and military officials in Iran clarified that the exercises were aimed at showing Iran as a regional power that will provide the region's security needs; at defying the U.S. – the world power "enemy" – and demonstrating Tehran's might and capabilities; and at signaling to the countries of the region that they should join the new security order that Iran is trying to establish in the region, rather than seeking protection from the U.S.
Further, official Iranian spokesmen reiterated to the West that Iran is fully capable of closing off the Strait of Hormuz – which would have very serious ramifications for oil prices worldwide – and made a clear threat to harm American interests in the region.
Iran's Regional Security Perception
Just prior to the maneuvers, senior Iranian officials set out the main points of Iran's regional security perception; under this perception, the security of the entire region, which holds the strategic reserves of the world's energy resources, is the sole responsibility of the countries of the region – with Iran at the helm because it is the undisputed regional superpower. Moreover, Iran's security perception rejects all reliance on aid or defense from foreign forces outside the region, and demands that they immediately remove themselves from the region.
Since Iran is the focal point of this new security order, its Gulf neighbors will have only token representation in the defense force. Accordingly, a military delegation from Qatar participated in the IRGC maneuvers, but only as observers; military delegations from Iraq, Oman, and Qatar were also observers in the Iranian army maneuvers, but only in the final stage. In effect, under the cover of conciliatory rhetoric and of offering to provide a defensive umbrella for its neighbors, Iran is clearly threatening its smaller, weaker Arab neighbors, and attempting to dictate its policy to them.
Iran's security perception is coordinated with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent call for a new world order, and a "new security order" for the Gulf. In an Army Day speech, on April 18, 2010, a few days before the maneuvers, Ahmadinejad expressed his country's aspiration to establish this new security order: "Experience shows that the presence of several [foreign forces] has brought the region nothing but undermined security, slaughter, and hostility. Therefore, there is no need for the presence of foreign forces to provide security for the region... They must leave our region – this is not a request, but an order, and the will of the local nations... They must go back home, leaving the nations of the region to manage [their own affairs]."
Also, during the maneuvers, Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said, "The forces of the arrogance [i.e. the U.S.] must know that the countries of the region do not need their presence in the Persian Gulf at all."
IRGC deputy commander Hossein Salami stressed that the exercise posed no threat to the countries of the region, and called on them to conduct joint maneuvers with Iran, in what he said would be "the beginning of a security-regional-local order based on cooperation, which will enable the countries of the region to make decisions by themselves without foreign intervention on issues of the security of this sensitive region."
The Goals of the Maneuvers
According to Salami, the IRGC maneuver was aimed at stepping up the force's deterrence, and at showing the positive role Iran plays in the security of the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz. He said that Iran had to develop a long-distance striking capability against enemy vessels and to adopt a strategy of fighting the enemy across a broad geographical area.
Mojtaba Zolnour, Supreme Leader Khamenei's representative in the IRGC, called the maneuvers a message of peace to the neighboring countries. Iranian National Security Council secretary Saeed Jalili likewise explained that their message to the countries of the region was one of security and peace, and that "in effect, these maneuvers are a demonstration of Iran's capability to provide the region with security and to deal with any type of destabilization of security in the Persian Gulf." He elaborated that "the presence of our friends [i.e. the Qatari representation] in part of the exercise shows them how Iran can use its capabilities to provide stability and security to the region," adding, "It is the Gulf countries that must provide security [in the region], because we are capable of instilling security there and dealing with [attempts to] destabilize [it]."
The IRGC weekly Sobh-e Sadeq explained that one of the goals of the exercise was to convey a message to some Gulf countries that they shouldn't continue to serve the interests of Iran's enemies, and that they should work together with Iran to set a new security order in a Gulf free of any foreign presence: "The countries of the region... – particularly those who for various reasons are psychologically affected by the exercise – are worried... because they [perceive] the exercise [itself] as a threat. For this reason, the countries conducting the maneuvers are trying to reassure these [worried] countries by various means.
"The policy of several Persian Gulf countries gives Iran's enemies a chance [to act against Iran]. This arouses security concerns in Iran – but despite this, for years [this country] has tried to explain to [its neighbors], by conducting various exercises and shows of military strength, that it is the countries of the region that must provide security in the Persian Gulf, and that they can actualize this mission by cooperating [with each other]."
Iranian Army naval corps commander Habibollah Sayyari pointed out the strategic importance of the corps' Velayat 89 exercise, which took place over 250,000 square kilometers, from the Strait of Hormuz to the international waters of Pakistan and India. He said that the exercise was aimed at defending Iran's maritime borders and protecting the security of the Aden Gulf region, and that it was to show Iran's determination to defend its interests in international waters and to convey the message that there is no need for foreign forces in the region to protect peace there. He added that Iran would deal harshly with any threat directed against it, and called the maneuvers a message of peace to the countries of the region.
Threats Against the West
Closing the Strait of Hormuz
Along with the threats to Iran's Arab neighbors, senior Iranian officials have also threatened U.S. interests in the region, repeatedly underlining Iran's ability to close off the Strait of Hormuz. IRGC political bureau head Yadollah Javani explained in April in the Javan daily that Iran controls the world's economy via oil, and that the world economy is Iran's hostage. In the article, titled "Persian Gulf Security – For All or For None," he argued that "the reality that over 63% of the [world's] energy reserves are in the Persian Gulf and the states surrounding it ties the world economy and the economic forces to this region... [If] the role of oil in the modern world is comparable to role of blood in economic life, then the life of the economy of the industrial world is in Iran's hands. In light of these conditions, does the U.S.'s threat to Iran seem logical?...
"By presenting some of Iran's defense capability in this exercise, the IRGC has shown that Iran has both the strength and the capability to close off the Strait of Hormuz, and [by doing so] can strip the security from the Persian Gulf. It is also grimly determined to do so in the event of an attack on the rights of the Iranian nation.
"Thus, the main message of the Great Prophet V exercise should be considered to be deterrent."
Majlis Security Committee member Parviz Sarvari also said that Iran has the strength to stop the passage of over 62% of the world's energy resources via the Strait of Hormuz in response to increased sanctions against it.
Threats to the U.S.
IRGC deputy commander Ali Fadavi, who was promoted to commander following the maneuvers, said that the maneuvers had proven that Iran "can not only meet the security needs of the region's countries, but can also pose a greater threat to the enemies... We can threaten U.S. bases across the Persian Gulf and in the Strait of Hormuz."
An article in the IRGC weekly Sobh-e Sadeq stated, "The display of part of Iran's ability to control the Persian Gulf passages and to simulate a situation of hell for American forces and warships in this exercise can be without a doubt very effective in response to Obama's statements."
Also Islamic Coalition Party Secretary General Mohammad-Nabi Habibi said that the exercise had demonstrated Iran's high capability for responding to an American attack: "If the United States makes an insane move, the armed forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran will squeeze the West's throat in the Strait of Hormuz... The nation's response to the enemy on sea will be a lot harsher than from land, and this message may follow the logic of 'all or nothing.'"
Showcasing New Weapons and Weapons Systems
During the IRGC exercises, there were Iranian media reports on simulated takeovers of warships and sinking of destroyers. IRGC deputy commander Hossein Salami said that during the exercise, IRGC forces destroyed simulated enemy warships, practiced asymmetrical attacks [that is, terror and suicide operations] against enemy targets, practiced operations in rough seas, and conducted ongoing activity through all hours of the day and night, including training in firing shore missiles and surface-to-surface missiles. He added that Basij members also tested their ability to use IRGC naval vessels [apparently for suicide operations against enemy forces].
Senior Iranian officials announced new domestically-produced weapons and equipment such as sophisticated helicopter gunships similar to the U.S. Cobra and an anti-cruise-missile defense system for operational use. It should be noted that in most cases these were neither sophisticated nor domestically produced, and that the reports were designed to foster the illusion of deterrence in the minds of the neighboring Gulf countries and in the West. Furthermore, it is known that Iran is experiencing a severe problem with aging, obsolete aircraft and equipment.
The Iranian media announced the deployment of hundreds of Ya-Mahdi-model stealth missile boats, and a destroyer (the missile boats, according to Tabnak, are equipped with sophisticated weaponry, i.e. torpedoes and guided missiles, with enhanced capability to destroy targets such as warships); the launching of "Nour smart missiles" and Nasr, Sa'akeh, Fajr 3 and Fajr 5 missiles, and cruise missiles; and remote-piloted vehicles with bombing capability.
Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said that in the IRGC maneuver were used shore-to-sea and sea-to-sea cruise missiles, and that "these capabilities are a severe warning to countries outside the region [i.e. the U.S.]." Vahidi added that Iran had inaugurated a production line for sophisticated Mesbah 1 aerial defense systems against cruise missiles and low-flying aircraft. He said that the system, which could fire 4,000 rounds per minute, could also identify and destroy unmanned craft. He added that the new system was equipped with a three-dimensional interception radar and an optical guidance system.
In addition, Iran reportedly brought in 10 domestically produced Tufan felicopter gunships, equipped with rockets, advanced anti-tank missiles, and 20-mm cannon.
The army's Velayat 89 maneuvers used, inter alia, swift-boat commando units, torpedoes, missiles, mine-laying systems, and radar. On May 6, the second day of the army maneuvers, Iranian army naval, land, and air forces practiced repelling an enemy attack in the Gulf of Oman, with "light and heavy submarines," warships, helicopters, and air units. Army helicopter gunships practiced identifying and destroying maritime and underwater targets. Later, the maneuver included firing missiles and training in intelligence gathering on simulated enemy forces with UAVs.
Appendix: Photos from Iranian Maneuvers
Source: Mehr (Iran), April 25, 2010
Source: Mehr (Iran), April 24, 2010
Source: Mehr (Iran), April 22, 2010
Mehr (Iran) April 22, 2010
* Y. Mansharof is a research fellow at MEMRI; A. Savyon is Director of the Iranian Media Project.
 For an excerpt from an IRIB report on the first maneuver, see http://memri.no-ip.info/IranFiles/iranianwargames1.wmv.
 Iran has a twofold military structure: The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), established in 1979 to assure the survival of the regime against the army which was loyal to the Shah, is the military arm on which the revolutionary regime has relied ever since. The IRGC receives preferential treatment vis-à-vis resources and armament over the traditional army. The IRGC is apparently in charge of Persian Gulf security, holds Iran's nuclear and strategic missile plan, and has arms for operation outside the country. Most Iranian government ministers and senior regime officials have come from its ranks.
 The head of the Qatari delegation, 'Abd Al-Rahim Ibrahim Al-Janahi, said that Qatar wanted to avail itself of Iran's military expertise and conduct joint maneuvers with it. IRNA (Iran); April 24, 2010; Fars (Iran), May 12, 2010.
 Fars (Iran), April 18, 2010.
 Fars (Iran), April 26 2010.
 Fars (Iran), April 25, 2010.
 Fars (Iran), April 25, 2010.
 ILNA (Iran), May 12, 2010.
 Press TV (Iran), April 24, 2010.
 Borna News (Iran), April 23, 2010
 Sobh-e Sadeq (Iran), April 26, 2010
 Mehr (Iran), May 4, 2010.
 Mehr, Press TV (Iran), May 4, 2010.
 Javan (Iran), April 26, 2010.
 Fars (Iran), April 26, 2010.
 Press TV (Iran), April 25, 2010. http://www.presstv.com/pop/Print/?id=124406. Iranian Army naval corps commander Habibollah Sayyari confirmed that on April 21, 2010 an Iranian F-27 flew above the USS Eisenhower in the Gulf and filmed it, saying that "Tehran is entitled" to do so. Fars (Iran), May 4, 2010.
 Sobh-e Sadeq (Iran), April 26, 2010.
 Tehran Times (Iran), April 28, 2010.
 Fars (Iran), April 25, 2010; Tabnak, Iran, April 22, 2010.
 Tabnak (Iran), April 22, 2010. http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=124059§ionid=351020101.
 IRNA Mehr, Press TV (Iran), April 25, 2010.
 Fars (Iran), April 26, 2010.
 Fars (Iran), May 2, 2010; Tehran Times (Iran), May 5, 2010.
 Tehran Times (Iran), May 2, 2010.
 Fars (Iran), May 5, 2010.
 Fars (Iran), May 6, 2010.
 Mehr (Iran), May 6, 2010.