May 19, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8752

Iranian Regime: The Entire Persian Gulf Is Our Sea – 'Mare Nostrum' – And Has Belonged To Iran For Centuries; U.S. Forces Must Leave It

May 19, 2020
Iran | Special Dispatch No. 8752

The following report is now a complimentary offering from MEMRI's Iran Threat Monitor Project (ITMP).

In advance of Iran's National Persian Gulf day, which this year fell on April 29,[1] the Iranian regime stepped up its provocations against U.S. vessels in international waters in the Gulf, in an attempt to establish in the international community the perception that these waters are Iranian. On April 15, 11 Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) speedboats harassed a formation of six U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships, getting within a few meters of them, refusing to heed warnings to move away, and "repeatedly conducted dangerous and harassing approaches," according to the U.S. Navy.[2]  

IRGC speedboats harassing U.S. vessels, April 15, 2020.

On April 19, Iran stated that the presence of foreign forces, particularly U.S. forces, in the Gulf endangers security and stability in it, and issued a warning stating that there would be "a decisive response to any mistake" by the Americans. It added that it the U.S. vessels had been interfering with Iranian maneuvers that were underway and that they had disregarded instructions by Iran to leave the area.

Majlis National Security Committee chairman Mojtaba Zolnour set out, on May 5, Iran's version of events: "The Americans are looking for provocations in the region, and are saying that Iranian [speed] boats surrounded the American ship... [But what really happened was] the American ship blocked the path of an Iranian ship everywhere it wanted to go. We have noticed that if we do not respond to [the Americans] at the right time, they become even more impudent, and begin to carry out other operations. Therefore, the Iranian [speed]boats' blocking of the American vessels was in fact a response to the Americans' interference."[3]  

A week after the incident, on April 22, President Trump tweeted: "I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea."

This explicit U.S. threat led the Iranian regime to stop harassing U.S. vessels in the Gulf and to direct its efforts into online media activity, and statements by regime officials, to establish the notion of "our sea" – "mare nostrum" – regarding the Persian Gulf, much as the ancient Romans considered the Mediterranean "mare nostrum." To this end, regime officials, headed by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and Iran's diplomatic corps, under the leadership of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, as well as top military commanders, mobilized to instill the notion that the Persian Gulf – not the Arabian Gulf, as the Arab countries surrounding it consider it – is Iranian territory, that Iran is in charge of the Strait of Hormuz, and that the IRGC carries out legitimate and legal policing operations in it in order to keep traffic in it secure and safeguard Iran's borders. Based on this, they reiterated their demand that the U.S. immediately withdraw its forces from the region, claiming that they were causing the tension.

The Iranian Armed Forces general staff even warned the U.S. on April 28, as the Iranian regime prepared to mark National Persian Gulf Day, that "Iran will always defend its territorial integrity with readiness and clear strength, and any adventure, harassment, or provocative action will lead to a decisive response by the armed forces of the Islamic Republic – the results of which will be felt by the enemy forces, including America."[4]

The U.S. and other Western forces began protecting commercial shipping in international shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf following a series of Iranian military attacks on it in neutral waters during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) in what became known as the Tanker War. In this context, Iranian forces attacked Kuwaiti tankers, and in the process a U.S. tanker was also damaged, in response to which a U.S. naval vessel struck the Iranian navy.

In recent years, there have been other incidents involving IRGC forces and U.S., Western, and other vessels. One major incident was the IRGC's January 2016 capture of a U.S. naval vessel in Iranian territorial waters and its crew – an act that Iran intended to tangibly mark the U.S.'s complete capitulation to it during the Obama administration. Once the Iranian regime was directly threatened by President Trump on April 22, it recirculated in its media a photo of the crew of the U.S. vessel with hands raised and IRGC weapons aimed at them, to demonstrate Iran's ostensible superiority over and humiliation of the U.S. naval forces (see also MEMRI Special Dispatch 8210, Following Iran's Seizure Of British Oil Tanker, Senior Iranian Officials Again Declare: The Persian Gulf Is Iranian Territory; Iran's Armed Forces Are Responsible For Security In It, In Strait Of Hormuz, Gulf Of Oman, August 2, 2019).

U.S. Navy vessel's crew surrounded by IRGC boats. Source:, January 12, 2016.

The following report on the Iranian regime's media campaign to promote and instill the notion that the Persian Gulf belongs to Iran is part of the new MEMRI Iran Threat Monitor Project (ITMP), an offshoot of our Iran Media Project. The ITMP will deliver vital information and translations related to the Iran threat from Farsi and Arabic, from Iran, its proxies, and its allies. This material is not provided by any other organization.

The Iran Threat Monitor Project (ITMP) follows, 24/7, Iranian media, Iranian government sources, and leading Iranian political, military, and religious figures, as well as leaders and media of Iran's allies and proxies across the region, in order to identify trends and provide real-time insight into Iran's thinking and planning, tracking major developments and threats before they happen.

Khamenei’s National Persian Gulf Day Campaign

The websites of Supreme Leader Khamenei published warnings by him and statements reflecting the regime's claim that the Gulf is Iranian territory and that Iran is in charge of security in the region. Regime officials from both the political and military echelons stressed that the Persian Gulf belongs geographically, linguistically, and culturally to Persia, that is, today's Islamic Iran, and that the Persian-Iranian nation has always been in charge of the security of the traffic in it. Military officials even warned the U.S. that any provocation on its part would be met with aggression.

Tweets by Khamenei on April 29 reflected the regime position that the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, and parts of the Gulf of Oman belong to the Iranian nation., April 29, 2020., April 29, 2020., April 29, 2020.

A poster published on Khamenei’s website featured a key with the map of the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Gulf of Oman, on a keychain bearing the Iranian flag, with the text "The Persian Gulf [Is] Our Home." Another poster depicted Iran's perception of the April 15 incident involving IRGC and U.S. naval vessels, with text reminding the U.S. of the January 2016 incident, in which U.S. soldiers were taken captive by Iran.;    

President Rouhani: "The Americans Need To Realize That This Gulf Is Called The Persian Gulf – It Is Not The New York Gulf Or The Gulf Of Washington"

President Rouhani said at an April 29 government meeting: "The Americans need to realize that this gulf is called the Persian Gulf. It is not the New York Gulf or the Gulf of Washington; it is the Persian Gulf. They must understand the situation and the conditions stipulated by this name, and that it was this nation that has protected these waterways for millennia. They must stop their daily conspiracies against the Iranian people. They can see that the Iranian nation has always existed and succeeded in every arena, and has always defended and will [continue to] successfully defend these waterways. The [Iranian] soldiers, army, IRGC, Basij and police have always been the protectors of these waterways and will always be."[5]

Foreign Minister Zarif: The U.S. Forces, 7,000 Miles From Iran's Shores, Are "Are Provoking Our Sailors From The Coast Of Our Very Own Gulf"

Responding to President Trump’s April 22, 2020 threats to target IRGC vessels in the Gulf, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif sought, in an April 23 tweet, to establish the view that the Iranians are defending their own Persian Gulf shores from the provocations of American forces 7,000 miles away from the U.S.[6], April 23, 2020

Iranian Armed Forces General Staff Warns Americans About Their Movements In Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman:  We Will Respond Decisively To Any Provocation Or Harassment

On April 28, the eve of Iran’s National Persian Gulf Day, the General Command Of Iran's armed forces warned the U.S.: "As international shipping lanes and a main artery of the global economy, the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Gulf of Oman have always been safe for the passage of oil and trade vessels and have enjoyed all the necessary security in recent years. In this context, the Islamic Republic [of Iran], in partnership with the countries of the region, has sought to maintain the accepted level of stability and peace. Dangerous and disruptive security activity started when the reckless and terrorist state of America and some of its allies set foot in this sensitive region. The Islamic Republic warned the international community time and time again about these American moves that [create] instability and disrupt the regional order and security, in violation of international laws and regulations...

"The year 2019 can be considered the height of America's evil movements [creating] insecurity in the region; it has set up several coalitions in the region on the false pretext of securing shipping in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, and Gulf of Oman.

"Therefore, the general command of the armed forces of the Islamic Republic considers the presence of America and its allies in the region to be illegitimate and a source of evil and insecurity. The command calls on them to obey the international laws and regulations, as well as the laws of the Islamic Republic, pertaining to [their] movements in the exclusive economic sea [zone] of Iran[7] and to refrain from all adventurism and non-secure maritime activity, and [all] dangerous activity.

"The Islamic Republic vehemently believes, and has always declared, that the countries of the region have the capabilities required for maintaining the security of the Persian Gulf, the vital [territorial] continuity of the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman, and the passage of energy in them. The only safe alternative to establishing peace and stability in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, and Gulf of Oman is the exit of the forces of the Americans and their allies, who are the main factor disrupting peace and security in the region, and transferring [responsibility for their] security to the countries of the region and to cooperation among them.

"The general command of the armed forces calls on America and its allies to stop spreading tension and insecurity in this strategic region by ending its provocative and dangerous operations. [It] firmly warns them to obey the international laws and regulations, as it crosses the exclusive economic sea [zone] of the Islamic Republic in the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf and the airspace of these regions, including the flight information region (FIR) and the air defense identification zone (ADIZ), [8] and to refrain from any creation of tension and dispute.

"As stated repeatedly, the Islamic Republic did not and will not initiate tensions and disputes in the region, but Iran will always defend its territorial integrity with readiness and clear strength. Any adventurism, harassment, or provocative operation will lead to a decisive response by the armed forces of the Islamic Republic, the results of which will be felt by the hostile forces, including America."[9]

IRGC Commander Hossein Salami: We Have Ordered Our Naval Military Units To Target American Vessels That Endanger Their Security

On April 23, IRGC commander Hossein Salami said in response President Trump's announcement of orders to strike IRGC vessels if they harass American ships: "We hereby inform the Americans that we are determined and absolutely serious about defending our national security, our maritime borders and interests, and the security of shipping and of our forces at sea, and that any action [by the Americans] will be met with our decisive, effective, and swift measure. We have instructed our military units at sea that if any vessel or combat unit from the naval forces of the terrorist American military attempts to put our civilian or military vessels at risk, that vessel should be targeted."

On the April 15 incident involving the IRGC and U.S. vessels in the Persian Gulf, he said: "Last week, American vessels interfered with our logistics ship, with their unprofessional and dangerous behavior, and they were frightened when our vessels patrolled the sea. The cause of last week's incident was the unprofessional and dangerous behavior of the Americans in the Persian Gulf. It seems that their command and control of their military units has been weakened because of the Americans' confronting the coronavirus [at home]."[10]

To see statements by Gen. Salami on MEMRI TV, click here or below:

Iranian Armed Forces Naval Commander Khanzadi: The Persian Gulf Is The Center Of The Naval Might Of The Islamic Resistance Front Against The Global Arrogance (U.S.)

Speaking on National Persian Gulf Day (April 29), Iranian Armed Forces Naval Commander Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi stressed Persian Iran's linguistic, historic, and geographic connections to the Gulf, justifying Iran's claim to hegemony in the region,  in opposition to the Arab countries that call it the Arabian Gulf, not the Persian Gulf. Because of Iran's dominance in the Gulf, he said, the other countries must obey it. He added that Islamic Iran was the center of gravity of the ideological, political, cultural, and religious fight against the Global Arrogance, i.e., the U.S., and that Iran was planning the new Islamic civilization in accordance with Leader Khamenei's vision, inter alia by means of Iranian maritime hegemony in the Gulf. He said:

"The geographical names are rooted in the history and culture of geographical regions, that is, there is an interaction between geography and civilization. With regard to the Persian Gulf, Iran's interaction with the Persian Gulf speaks for itself... Another important issue is geopolitics... The Persian Gulf draws its identity from Islamic Iran and it is part of the identity of the Islamic Republic, and this issue is nonnegotiable and cannot be compromised!

"In this matter, the geography and geopolitical weight of the countries [dictate] their dominance, and other [countries] have no choice but to obey, and this matter cannot be sabotaged! Today, the Persian Gulf is the center of a dispute between the Islamic Iranian culture and the front of the global arrogance, led by America and Britain. The Persian Gulf is the center of gravity of the creation of the naval might of the Islamic resistance front in the face of the global arrogance [the U.S.]... Iran, in the second phase of the revolution [referring to Supreme Leader Khamenei's vision for the next 40 years of the revolution, culminating in the establishment of a global Islamic civilization[11]] will be very different from in the past, [and will be] based on the religious, revolutionary, cultural and maritime thought of the young people; we will make great strides towards the new Islamic civilization and this is the point of concern for the West.

"This is the beginning of the end of the dominance of the arrogance in the region... What worries the enemy in this atmosphere is not our military, political, and economic might, but the ideals of Islamic Iran, that uses its geopolitical capabilities to obtain global might and appeal…

"The Americans bring nothing to the countries of the region but marginal crises that the Islamic Republic can neutralize. For this reason, [American] movement in the Persian Gulf and the seas around the Islamic Republic is forbidden! Imposing undesirable and cruel security arrangements on the region is forbidden!

"The nations of the region must be aware: the Americans are the other side of the coin of British politics, and [are using the method of] divide and conquer. They [the U.S. and Britain] have been stealing the culture of interaction and empathy from the region and the world for many years, playing with the historic name of the gulf that was always Persia , and this is part of the filthy American-British policy! For the name of the Persian Gulf is listed in history and in the international institutions.[12]

"As long as America and its allies move in the region, the [concept of] collective and global security is meaningless! American security means terrorism, intimidation, controlled insecurity, and imposing wars by means of their proxies on the region and on the world. The region, and the world, must be purged of the American movements, and to this end we need unity and empathy. We are very serious about maintaining peace and ongoing collective security in the region, and we will not allow any foreign element to destabilize the region."[13]

Iranian Armed Forces naval commander Hossein Khanzadi (Source: ISNA, Iran, April 29, 2020)

IRGC Navy Commander Tangsiri: "We Will Not Accept American Inspections Of Our Fishing Boats, Or American Helicopters Flying Over Our Oil Fields"; "We Will Not Allow Any Foreign Vessel To Enter Our Waters" 

In recent weeks, IRGC Navy commander Ali Reza Tangsiri has made several comments in the matter of the Persian Gulf. On April 20, several days after the April 15 incident, he said: "Everywhere the Americans were there was insecurity. We don't know a single place where an American presence brought security. The Americans blocked our vessels, in violation of international law, and refused to respond to radioed [warnings], and [were  forced to] face our forces’ authoritative approach. With the Americans' arrival in the region, 550 oil tankers were targeted, the security of the region was weakened by 55%, and the [number of] accidents per day in the Persian Gulf has risen dramatically. The navies of the IRGC and the army are constantly monitoring security in the region, and no vessel can enter the area without announcing its details... The Islamic Revolution has not invaded any Islamic or non-Islamic country in its 42-year history."[14] 

On National Persian Gulf Day, April 29, Tangsiri said: "The foreign presence in the region creates insecurity, as shown by several maritime collisions, including between an American destroyer and a Japanese tanker, an American submarine and an oil tanker, as well as an American destroyer's firing on a UAE yacht, killing several people.

"The illegitimate presence of the Americans in the region is likely to endanger our security, and we will not allow any foreign vessel to enter our waters. Our Persian Gulf islands are highly strategic, and we are expanding our services by reinforcing the residential infrastructure in order to make it easier for people to live on them, and for better employment prospects for young people in these areas. This is the Leader's demand. We built an international airport on Greater Tunb [Island], one on Lesser Tunb, and the IRGC navy has also built more than 50 breakwaters for the people. Foreigners have no place in our region, and they must leave it."[15]

IRGC naval commander Ali Reza Tangsiri (Source: ISNA, Iran, April 20, 2020).

Tangsiri added: "This region has always and will always be the Persian Gulf, and we Iranians must read its history. In various countries in the world, this gulf is called 'Persian' in their language... Therefore, no one can call [this region] by a false name [such as 'Arabian Gulf']. Many martyrs gave their lives in this region so that the Persian Gulf would remain the Persian Gulf, and the islands in it will remain Persian Gulf islands. The entire Persian Gulf belongs to Persia. We believe that the countries of the region can extend the hand of friendship to each other, and with the great unity among them, they can create security in the region and expel the foreigners from it. Khamenei has special sensitivity regarding the Persian Gulf. He has always instructed to call the Persian Gulf islands by their original names [in Persian]..."[16]

Subsequently, on May 1, he said: "We see a glorious future for the Persian Gulf region. When we say that the Americans must leave the region, this is because, with their exit, the region will no longer have problems, and security will prevail in it. The Americans are seeking tensions and to fan flames in the region, and have brought insecurity wherever they went. Therefore, in the Persian Gulf, a calm region where the countries have lived in peace alongside each other for many years, this American presence and the presence of [other] countries from outside the region are the cause of [the current] insecurity. These [American] activities in the Persian Gulf are [an attempt] to justify their illegitimate presence – but the countries of the region are waking up, and the first expulsion will be in Iraq, and, God willing, this process will begin also in other countries...

"You must know that we do not seeking to [set] fires in our own home, for the Persian Gulf is our home. But we will not accept American inspections of our fishing boats, or American helicopters flying over our oil fields, and we will not let our rights be trampled. They [the Americans] entered our training area, after [we] had already announced a maneuver in that area. They sought [to create] insecurity with these actions, and thus were commanded to leave [the area]... The Americans are not obeying maritime law. Why must they take upon themselves the right to conduct maneuvers whenever they want? Today we are monitoring the Americans like a hawk, the length and breadth of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, and wherever they are; our brothers in the navy of the army are monitoring them in the Gulf of Oman. The Islamic Republic forces in the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf are monitoring every move the Americans make. They are imploding and splintering from within, but they are still trying to show their glory to the oppressed peoples in the region."[17]


[1] The Iranian regime marks National Persian Gulf Day as part of its political and cultural struggle against the Arab states that refer to it as the Arabian Gulf.

[2], April 15, 2020.

[3] Zolnour is referring to the U.S. maneuvers that the Iranians tried to disrupt. According to Zolnour's description of events, an American vessel blocked an Iranian vessel, prompting the Iranians to dispatch speedboats towards it. Tasnim (Iran), May 5, 2020.

[4] ISNA (Iran), April 28, 2020.

[5], April 29, 2020.

[6], April 23, 2020.

[7] Iran has an exclusive economic zone of 164,051 square km, in addition to the continental shelf of 108,534 square km, divided between the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman, and the Arabian Sea.

[8] The concept of ADIZ is not defined in any international charter and is not set up by any international body.

[9] ISNA (Iran), April 28, 2020.

[10] ISNA (Iran), April 23, 2020.

[12] He is referring to Iran's successful efforts to get "Persian Gulf" recognized in official documentation of the UN's World Intellectual Property Organization., October 22, 2018.

[13] ISNA (Iran), April 29, 2020.

[14] ISNA (Iran), April 20, 2020.

[15] ISNA (Iran), April 29, 2020.

[16] ISNA (Iran), April 29, 2020.

[17] Defa Press (Iran), May 1, 2020.

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