Iran announced on Wednesday that it had finished refitting a major submarine for its naval forces. Photos from Jaam-e Jam news, published by the state-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, show a ceremony in which naval officers in their dress whites inspected the submarine, decorated with colorful flags.
A banner placed across the front sail of the vessel (that's the part protruding from the top) carried the enthusiastic phrase "Yes We Can!" (translated by Payvand News, a U.S. based English language Iranian news site, which claims to be apolitical).
The message of hope, most likely meant to applaud domestic defense industries rather than to mock Barack Obama's 2008 slogan, was not lost on Iran's top commanders, who voiced enthusiastic notes on the country's ability to deal with foreign militaries.
Meanwhile, the lack of understanding and communication between the U.S. and Iran seems to be ever widening. After attempts to sanction and diplomatically isolate the regime, President's Obama's own initial promises to engage and talk directly with Tehran seem more remote than ever.
On the seas, Tehran remains a relatively minor threat to American naval power. Iran mostly builds smaller-sized submarines, though the Commander of the Iranian Navy, Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, told Iranian state-media on September 19 that the country had “reached the threshold of self-sufficiency in manufacturing, equipping and repairing the most complicated and modern types of submarines in the world.”
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The Islamic Republic calls it newly upgraded submarine --the ‘Tareq’-- a “super-heavy submarine.” Compared to the rest of its fleet, it is, but most other countries would call it a medium sized diesel-electric powered submarine. The ships were originally built and exported to Iran by Russia as part of a group of 3 Kilo-class subs in the early 1990s.
Press TV, the English-language division of Iran's state broadcasting services, said that the country has “launched different classes of advanced submarines including Fateh, Ghadir, Qaem and Nahang.” Most of those ships are only one-third to one-fifth as large at the Teraq/Kilo in displacement.
The publicity given to the ceremony on Wednesday appears to be yet another opportunity for Iran to showcase the gains it has made in recent years in defense.
The U.S. Navy, at least, appears concerned about Iran’s capabilities to attack and threaten international shipping in the Persian Gulf – something Tehran has vowed to do in the past if attacked by America or its allies.
Iran’s naval development announcement comes just a day after U.S. and allied navies finished a massive training exercise in the Persian Gulf, intended for preparations to keep the Straits of Hormuz open to international shipping in case of conflict.
The U.S.-led exercise included participants from more than 30 countries, focusing on minesweeping, and was the first of its kind ever conducted in the region.
Speaking to Agence France-Presse on Monday, Lieutenant Greg Raelson of the U.S. Fifth fleet in Bahrain said the exercise was “not being conducted in response to any particular threat or any specific situation."
But he may not be fooling many. Iranian forces could use mines, smaller fast attack boats, and submarines operating near the Straits to significantly disrupt oil transport in the region, should hostilities ever break out. At the very least, the cost of insuring the ships could rise significantly, adding major pressures on maritime shipping corporations and in turn global oil markets.
Hundreds of ships pass through the Straits weekly, mostly taking oil from the Middle East’s major producers to nations in East Asia. 17 million barrels passed through the Straits every day in 2011, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That same year, oil transiting Hormuz also represented 35 percent of all oil traded by sea, or about a fifth of the entire planet’s oil trade. 85 percent of oil leaving through the Strait went to Asia, particularly Japan, China, India, and South Korea.
That means if any disruptions occurred in the Gulf, either from U.S. hostilities with Iran, Iranian reactions to Israeli attacks on its nuclear facilities, or even terrorists or non-state groups acting on their own, the consequences could be most severe in areas now largely considered to be world’s leading economic drivers.