Almost literally in the wake of a massive U.S. cruise missile submarine, the USS Georgia, openly entering the Persian Gulf, Israeli media reported that an Israeli attack submarine had crossed the Suez Canal into the Red Sea in another very rare move. The U.S. submarine transit which I wrote about here, is a clear message to Iran not to retaliate for the U.S. strike on Iranian terror master Qasem Soleimani on the strike’s anniversary Jan. 3.
The Israeli Dolphin II-class submarine is reportedly headed for the Persian Gulf in possible preparation for any Iranian retaliation over the November assassination of a senior Iranian nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Iran blamed Israel, which has been implicated in several killings of Iranian nuclear scientists, for the November assassination of Fakhrizadeh.
Both strikes against top Iranian military leaders have given Iran motive to retaliate, and Iranian officials have repeatedly vowed to take revenge on Israeli or U.S. targets in the region. The troubled presidential transition in the U.S. may also give Iran the idea that now is a good time to retaliate.
That would be a major miscalculation.
As to the submarines, Farzin Nadimi at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy notes that:
The Dolphin II can remain submerged for up to thirty days owing to its air independent propulsion (AIP). It can also reportedly carry cruise missiles with an unconfirmed range of about 1,500 kilometers, armed with conventional or nuclear warheads. In theory, then, the vessel could threaten inland targets near Iran’s coast while standing off in the Arabian Sea, or even the sensitive Natanz and Isfahan nuclear facilities if it risked sailing further north into the Gulf of Oman.
As I described previously, the converted nuclear ballistic submarine USS Georgia can carry over 100 conventionally armed Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles (TLAMs) — with ranges of 1,300 to 2,500 kilometers. That is a lot of firepower. The Georgia can also carry a few dozen SEALs for covert operations.
Meanwhile, in response, Tehran announced that it is starting large-scale naval exercises, possibly including its own domestically produced attack submarines. According to Iran’s PressTV, “Iran subs Fateh, with a 100% domestically-sourced technology, can operate more than 200 meters below the sea surface for nearly five weeks.” It is reportedly capable of carrying and firing cruise missiles while submerged.
On Monday, Tehran announced that it would not allow the appearance of an Israeli submarine near its territorial waters and could destroy it without warning. Iran also announced the large-scale deployment of Fateh-110 short-range missiles to coincide with the start of its naval exercises.
Iran’s PressTV reported that “Iran will not hesitate to give a ‘strong and massive’ response to any Israeli submarine in the Persian Gulf, a lawmaker says.”
“Israel must know that our response to aggression against our national security will be strong and massive,” spokesman for the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Abolfazl Amouei was quoted as saying.
Tensions are definitely rising and could boil over in the next few days.
Nadimi notes that:
Iran will likely try various measures to dissuade the Israeli vessel from entering the Strait of Hormuz, such as declaring that this action would cross a redline, refusing the vessel the right of innocent passage, conducting military exercises in the area, and increasing its patrols to locate and interdict the sub. Although Tehran may stop short of actions that precipitate a shooting war, such confrontations would nevertheless carry substantial risk of escalation.