Iran Celebrates Anniversary of Capturing US Sailors with Warning

The head of the maritime branch of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard delivered a warning to would-be aggressors on the fifth anniversary of his country's capture of U.S. sailors traversing the Persian Gulf, which serves today as a flashpoint for worsening tensions between Washington and Tehran.

Five years ago, the Revolutionary Guard Navy intercepted two U.S. Navy riverine boats and briefly detained the 10 sailors onboard for straying into Iranian waters off Farsi Island.

Iranian Navy Rear Admiral Alireza Tangsiri recounted the international incident on Monday, maintaining that his forces "are fully prepared" to defend Iran and its borders at sea.

"If a country intends to invade or threaten our Islamic homeland, as on January 13, 2016, our answer will be absolutely decisive and tough," Tangsiri said during a ceremony at the country's southern port city of Bandar Abbas.

The U.S. and Iran have a long history of naval tensions in the Persian Gulf, and the comments came just a day after the Iranian commander appeared in a televised interview in which he recalled other displays of Iranian might in the region, including the June 2019 shootdown of a spy drone, a move Tangsiri referred to as "a turning point" in the country's military history.

He demanded the Pentagon pull its forces from the region, blamed the U.S. military for causing insecurity in the region, and called for cooperation among Middle Eastern nations there.

"The U.S. must leave the Persian Gulf region and has no option but to withdraw from the region," Tangsiri said. "Americans cannot extend their stay for a long time, because the Persian Gulf belongs to Iran and the southern countries of the Persian Gulf, and is a home to us and Muslim countries on the southern rim of the Persian Gulf."

iran, irgc, navy, persian, gulf
Iranian Revolutionary Guard gunboats surround a mock U.S. aircraft carrier during Great Prophet 14 exercises in the Strait of Hormuz in July 2020. Worsening tensions between Washington and Tehran have translated into unrest and insecurity across the Persian Gulf. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

Tangsiri also recently participated in the unveiling of an underground missile base said to be located on the shores of the Persian Gulf. He was joined by Revolutionary Guard commander Major General Hossein Salami at the undisclosed station, where the two toured facilities described as "several kilometers long."

"Our logic to defend territorial integrity, the country's independence and the achievements of the Islamic Revolution," Salami said.

Salami proclaimed that his country's missile arsenal—the largest and most advanced in the region—helped to ensure "the defense of the vital interests of the great nation of Iran in the blue waters of the Persian Gulf and beyond."

U.S. Central Command did not immediately respond to Newsweek's request for comment, though the State Department has commented on previous revelations of Iranian underground missile bases.

"Iran claims to want good relations with its neighbors, yet it continues to threaten them with even greater levels of violence," a spokesperson told Newsweek after such a site was featured in July. "Iran is the greatest threat to peace and security in the Middle East. Statements like this demonstrate clearly that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its leaders are a destabilizing force in the region."

News of the latest facility came about a week after the one-year anniversary of the U.S. slaying of senior Revolutionary Guard leader Quds Force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani alongside Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces deputy chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and others last January in a drone airstrike at Baghdad International Airport. Tehran struck back at the time with a barrage of missiles against U.S. troops at an Iraqi base.

Iranian officials to this day threaten "hard revenge" for Soleimani's killing, the most serious escalation since the Trump administration first unleashed a "maximum pressure" sanctions campaign against Iran for allegedly violating the 2015 nuclear deal that the U.S. abandoned in May 2018.

Iran has always insisted it did not seek a nuclear weapon, but concerns regarding its nuclear program led to international sanctions placed upon the Islamic Republic about a decade ago. These restrictions were lifted in response to Iran severely curbing its nuclear activities as per the nuclear agreement, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The JCPOA and diplomatic efforts accompanying were credited for securing the quick release of the two U.S. Navy ships and their crew after their January 2016 seizure. China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom still support the nuclear accord, though Iran has walked away from some of its commitments in moves officials there argue are to be reversed upon total compliance by other parties to the deal.

President-elect Joe Biden, who served as vice president when the JCPOA was formulated, has promised to reenter the deal and potentially expand it. He's set to take office on January 20, though concerns linger around Trump's unpredictability in his final days as president, particularly amid heightened political unrest in the U.S., where pro-Trump protesters stormed the Capitol and engaged in deadly clashes with federal security forces in Washington, D.C.

The incident has been the subject of consternation among the international community, though critical nations such as Iran have also taken the opportunity to ridicule the U.S., a country known for its interventionist tendencies including regime change efforts inflicted against other countries—including Iran— across the globe.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei argued Thursday that Washington was facing "the same predicament" in its violent political disarray that the U.S. sought to impose on Iran.