Iran Says It Will Launch First Submarine
MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) _ An Iranian military commander announced that Tehran would deploy its first submarine this week, and he said Iran’s missiles are prepared for launching in case of provocation in the Persian Gulf, official media reported today.
The Iranian news agency quoted Mohzen Rezaie, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards, as saying the submarine would be launched during the three-day war games codenamed ″Martyrdom″ that began at midnight Monday.
Iran has been at war with Iraq since 1980. But Rezaei told reporters the naval maneuvers were being staged to increase Iran’s capacity ″to confront plots of the United States and international arrogance,″ according to the Islamic Republic News Agency, monitored in Nicosia, Cyprus.
Iran has threatened U.S. vessels in the Persian Gulf since the Reagan administration agreed to re-register and protect 11 Kuwaiti tankers plying the waterway. Tehran has stepped up its threats since Friday’s killing of hundreds of Iranian pilgrims in a clash with Saudi Arabian police in Mecca.
Today’s IRNA announcement was believed to be the first time the Iranians have said they have a submarine. It was not possible to independently confirm the report, which offered no details on the underwater craft. The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies lists no submarines in the Iranian navy.
Rezaie said that during the maneuvers, the Revolutionary Guards, devoted followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, are battling hypothetical targets with surface-to-ship and surface-to-air missiles. He added, however, that the surface-to-ship missiles would not be fired against vessels in the gulf ″except for an untoward incident instigated by an enemy,″ IRNA reported.
Iran reportedly has Chinese-made Silkworm anti-ship missiles with a range of 50 miles positioned on the northern side of the Strait of Hormuz, the entrance to the gulf. The missiles could hit any vessel negotiating the narrow passage.
In related naval activity, a carrier-led French squadron bound for the region entered the Suez Canal today from the Mediterranean.
A canal officer, who refused to be named, identified the French units as the aircraft carrier Clemenceau, the missile-launching frigates Suffren and Duquesne and the repleneshment oil tanker Meuse. France already has three warships in the gulf.
France severed diplomatic relations with Iran on July 17 in a row that began when Paris police sought to question an Iranian embassy translator in connection with a series of bombings.
On the first day of the ″Martyrdom″ exercises, Iranian speedboats attacked dummy ″enemy ships″ and anti-aircraft fire crackled along the Iranian coast. Shipping traffic slowed to a crawl in the Strait of Hormuz.
In Washington, the Defense Department’s chief spokesman, Robert Sims, said the Iranian naval maneuvers did not affect the United States.
″We will continue to operate ... in a normal way in the gulf,″ he told a news conference in Washington. But other officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. Navy would not begin escorting the reflagged Kuwaiti tanker Bridgeton on its 500-mile return trip through the gulf until next week, after the Iranian exercises concluded.
Pentagon officials have said they believe Iran laid a mine that blew a hole in the Bridgeton last week near Farsi Island. The tanker, part of the first convoy to receive U.S. protection, will carry a partial load on its return from Kuwait.
Iran and Iraq have attacked scores of ships in the gulf in an attempt to damage one another’s economies. During the past year, Iran has attacked vessels serving Kuwait, charging the emirate backs Iraq.
Iranian television on Tuesday showed Iranian speedboats darting through the gulf, their crews perched behind heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
On shore, onlookers waved a huge banner that said in Farsi, the Iranian language: ″Persian Gulf of Iran, Graveyard of Reagan.″
IRNA quoted Cmdr. Mohammad Malekzadegan as saying: ″Iran’s naval forces are fully prepared to take revenge on the United States and its criminal accomplices for shedding the blood of innocent pilgrims.″
The commander was referring to the deaths of the pilgrims in Mecca. Iran claims the Saudis opened fire on the pilgrims and acted with U.S. acquiescence. The Saudis say the Iranians were fatally wounded when a political demonstration turned violent.
Tehran radio said naval units of the irregular Revolutionary Guards, devout followers of Khomeini, approached three American ships escorting the Bridgeton and its companion, the Gas Prince, last week through the gulf. It did not say where or when.
The radio said the Iranian ships approached the warships and carried out reconnaissance operations, showing that ″U.S. warships have considerable weaknesses.″
The Gas Prince and its Navy escorts passed through the Strait of Hormuz hours before the Iranian exercises began Monday night. U.S. military officials said an Iranian frigate tailed the convoy, but stayed several miles behind. U.S. officials did not report any other encounters with Iranian ships.