Iran’s new frontline with America in the Gulf and Syria

Iran wants to remove the US from Iraq and Syria while also carrying out pinprick threats in the Gulf.

Iran Zafar satellite launch, Feb. 9, 2020 (photo credit: TASNIM NEWS AGENCY)
Iran Zafar satellite launch, Feb. 9, 2020
(photo credit: TASNIM NEWS AGENCY)
Iran is threatening the US in the Persian Gulf through new harassment of US naval vessels and messages demanding the US leave the region. It is part of Tehran’s Middle East game plan to try to remove the US from Iraq and Syria while also carrying out pinprick threats in the Gulf. Iran has harassed US ships in the Gulf for decades but the new rhetoric is designed to turn up the heat on this front. In Syria Iranian media is also messaging against the US, claiming the US “trains terrorists.”

With oil prices declining, the Gulf has less strategic value, but Iran nevertheless wants to stir up tensions. Last week eleven Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fast boats approached several US ships, including a ship conducting helicopter drills and a destroyer. The IRGC fast boats made dangerous maneuvers with 10 yards of the US navy and America released details about the incident.

Over the next days IRGC said that US “terrorists” are the source of regional instability. Then Iran announced new armed drones and new long distance radar. It also unveiled new anti-tank rounds that it says can be dropped from drones. This was designed to up the pressure. Iran went further over the weekend, announcing new naval missiles it says can reach 700km and also urging “foreign forces to leave after incident.” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani phoned his Kuwaiti counterparts and informed them of Iranian anger about the US presence.

This is a full court press by Iran. The IRGC threatens the US and the Iranian foreign ministry also releases statements against the US “illegitimate” presence. “We want them to leave the region as soon as possible,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi. The IRGC warns the US that even the slightest mistake will be “the last one.” The IRGC Navy accuses the US of “adventurism” and Iran claims the US has interdicted 550 oil tankers in the Gulf. To show off its willingness to confront the US the Iranian website Tasnim published videos of US warships taken at night on April 7.

In Syria Iranian media is also on a full-court press, claiming the US is “training terrorists” at a base where US troops are located called Tanf. This narrative asserts a conspiracy theory that Iran and Russian media have pushed in the past. Tasnim news claimed over the weekend that the US was training ISIS. As part of the rhetoric against the US presence in Syria Iran claims that Syrian regime members found US ordnance in Quneitra’s countryside, a remnant of US support for Syrian rebels during the civil war.

To undermine the US presence in Syria Iran’s media spreads rumors about the Syrian regime’s successes. Press TV claims that “members of the last remaining US-backed military group in Syria have fled an occupied American military base…defecting to the Damascus army that is on the verge of winning the war against Takfiri terrorists.” At the same time Iranian media pushes reports that the US is paying Syrians in eastern Syria up to $350 a month to guard oil wells. These oil fields now are less relevant due to declining oil prices. However, Iran has a sophisticated information warfare department that pushes various rumors about the US presence in Iraq and Syria. All of this is designed to undermine the US presence.

To cement its close relationship with the Syrian regime, which Iran has backed, Tehran sent foreign minister Javad Zarif to Syria on Monday. Wearing  a facemask to hide his usual smile he met with the Syrian regime leader Bashar al-Assad. They slammed US sanctions on Iran as inhumane. Zarif’s visit was marred by airstrikes that occurred in on the night after his visit. Otherwise, he and Assad basked in the feeling that Iran is slowly rolling back the US presence in the region and able to threaten US forces at a time of their choosing over several thousand miles of frontline from the Gulf to Syria.