DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (Dispatches) — Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) is building a massive support ship near the strategic Strait of Hormuz as it tries to expand its naval presence in waters vital to international energy supplies and beyond, The Associated Press has reported, citing satellite photos obtained by the U.S. news agency.
The construction of the Shahid Mahdavi provides the IRGC a large, floating base from which to run the small, fast boats that largely make up its fleet designed to counter the U.S. Navy and other allied forces in the region, it added.
“They are looking beyond the Persian Gulf and into the blue waters of the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea and the northern Indian Ocean,” Farzin Nadimi, an associate fellow at the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy who studies the Iranian military, told the news agency.
Iran’s Fars news agency has described the vessel as a “mobile naval city” capable of “ensuring the security of Iran’s trade lines, as well as the rights of Iranian sailors and fishermen in the high seas”.
“This range of new defense and combat innovations for the construction of heavy vessels, in line with the mass development of light vessels, and equipping them with various arrays can maintain Iran’s authority over the Persian Gulf and the [Gulf] of Oman always in the face of transregional enemies,” Fars said.
Such floating bases have been used before in the region, particularly by the U.S. Navy during the 1980s so-called “Tanker War” after Iraq invaded Iran, the AP said.
During the conflict, U.S. special forces operated from commercial barges that served as forward operating bases. The Navy still works with the idea today — the Mideast-based 5th Fleet has been home to the USS Lewis B. Puller, a massive ship designed off an oil tanker that can host troops and attack helicopters.
“The Shahid Mahdavi looks like it will be configured to be an afloat forward staging base, to use the U.S. Navy term,” said Michael Connell, an expert on Iran at the Virginia-based Center for Naval Analyses. “The Puller was parked for many years in the Persian Gulf and the Iranian military witnessed its utility as a platform for expeditionary warfare and power projection.”
For years, the IRGC patrolled the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf, while Iran’s regular navy patrolled the seas and oceans beyond. Building the Shahid Mahdavi likely gives the IRGC the ability to
expand its presence into those waters once patrolled by the navy, the AP said.
“History also isn’t something that has escaped Iran,” the news agency said. The choice of the name for the IRGC’s newest ship — Shahid Mahdavi, or Martyr Mahdavi — comes from Nader Mahdavi, an Iranian guardsman martyred by the U.S. Navy in 1987 during the “Tanker War.”
America’s killing of Mahdavi still resonates in Iran today, the AP said. Tehran has said America captured him alive and tortured him because of the condition of his body after it was returned. The American helicopters had strafed the Iranian vessels Mahdavi oversaw with machine guns, rockets and “fléchette” rounds — small metal darts.
Using Mahdavi’s name, the AP said, suggests the IRGC views this as a means by which to challenge the U.S. Navy in the Mideast, particularly with the new ship likely able to support the so-called “swarm attacks” Iran can launch against larger American warships.