Iran claimed this week that it would release momentous news about a great military operation. Iran’s state media said Wednesday that “in the next few hours” news would be released that would make regime supporters proud of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps power. Iran observers waited patiently. What could it be, they asked. Hacking of the US. A cyber attack on Israel? A new aerospace program, drones, missiles, satellites, nuclear technology.
Then word came that it involved the Gulf of Oman and the IRGC navy. The IRGC is a revolutionary guard, a kind of Praetorian guard created to defend Iran’s “revolution.” But over the years it has sponged up epic resources, from the economy to foreign policy, sending cadres to fight abroad, advising wars in Syria and Iraq and working with proxies in Lebanon and Yemen. It also has drones, boats and all manner of weapons. As such it conducts operations in place of the army, navy and the usual formal elements of Iran’s regime.The IRGC has even more power under the new president. But it also wants to prove itself. This is perhaps because Iran has suffered setbacks such as sanctions and sabotage and cyber failures. But the IRGC has successes, using drones to attack US forces.
When the announcement came it claimed that the US had tried to “pirate” a tanker being used by Iran and that the oil on the tanker was transferred by the US. Iran, in a daring raid, sent a helicopter with elite IRGC troops to rope down onto the ship and grab the oil back, right in front of the Americans. Then Iran did its greatest feat of all, it took the tanker back while the US 5th Fleet, the greatest naval power in the world, was helpless. The US chased the tanker and failed, the Iranians claimed.
There was even video, oddly it seemed to be shot from the ship before it was boarded, and followed the Iranian raid, which was unopposed. The tanker was supposedly taken back to Iran on October 25. Not since Sir Francis Drake outwitted the Spanish Main had such an epic naval encounter been done, apparently. Perhaps.
The US rejected the Iranian claims. US Defense officials disputed the story to US media, such as CBS. They said that the incident last week involved two US Navy destroyers that “were sent to monitor a Vietnamese flagged vessel which had been seized by Iranian Revolutionary Guards, but that there was no attempt to intervene or seize the cargo,” CBS said. Pentagon Spokesman, John Kirby countered the IRGC claims of seizure of an Iranian oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman, saying allegations are "totally false and untrue."
TankerTrackers.com which monitors shipping posted about the incident, adding skepticism. They posted a summary of what actually happened. They note that IRGC ships swarmed the SOTHYS tanker and that the goal of the IRGC was to attract the attention of the US Navy. The Navy responded because this was a commercial ship.
The incident happened on October 24. The real story apparently of this ship is that it sailed to China where its cargo was rejected and she went back with her 700,000 barrels of oil. She was going to go back to Iran anyway. The tanker flies the flag of Vietnam and is apparently owned by a Vietnamese company, TankerTrackers.com wrote on Twitter. It was “tasked” to transport Iranian crude oil. The Iran-China oil trade has been in the news lately.The IRGC, after bragging and inventing this story, has doubled down. Fars and Tasnim media are full of stories of how Iran is the “anchor” of security in the region and has outwitted the Americans. Iran’s media published cartoons of the tanker escaping US clutches. But it’s not clear the tanker escaped anything. It looks like Iran staged the raid on its own oil for no reason, except to pretend it was “capturing” it from the US. This was to cover up an Iranian failure of exporting oil. It kidnapped its own oil to make the failure seem less disgraceful.
But Iran’s media runs with the story. “Americans are accustomed to constantly losing to Iran: Major General Salami's account of the IRGC's confrontation with the United States in the Sea of Oman,” says Fars News. Iran claims its oil exports are also increasing. Iran’s IRGC also publishes its own headlines, such as “Chief appreciation for the recent action of the IRGC: We will not allow the interests of the Iranian nation to be attacked.”
Basically, the story is that the IRGC wanted to show off. It didn’t have much to do, so it seems to have invented a story of great daring raids just to show video, that it had prepared to produce, like a propaganda film or staged incident. Meanwhile, Iran’s Fars News published an article about how US Naval personnel were stopped and detained in 2016. Iran also detained British sailors in 2007. This means that Iran is attempting to relive past incidents but apparently has not been able to lure the US into a similar scenario.
The overall lesson here is that Iran wants to create an incident. It is willing to use fast boats, helicopters and IRGC forces in a way that could lead to a real live-fire incident. It has harassed US ships in the past. Much of this is made for propaganda purposes, to create video that can be shown in Iran.
The IRGC is also trying to prove its worth to the regime. However, Iran’s leadership must know this story is either totally false or partially false and they will wonder what the IRGC is up to. The IRGC operates in a shadow world of lawlessness, conducting Iran’s foreign and military policy. However, even in the shadows it apparently needs to create fake news every once in a while to pretend it is doing “something.” It is also possible it is trying to lure the US into an incident, and this was just a test.