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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Iran Guards Corps Is Put in Charge of Gulf Defense : By Ladane Nasseri

Sept. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Ayatollah Ali Khamenei put Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards Corps in charge of defending the Persian Gulf from possible attacks by the U.S. or Israel, a key aide to the country's supreme leader said. ``The Guards' missiles have the range to cover all the Persian Gulf,'' the official Islamic Republic News Agency cited Major General Yahya Rahim-Safavi as telling reporters today. ``No ship can cross it without being within reach.'' The Guards Corps, which sparked a crisis last year when members seized and held for two weeks 15 British sailors and marines, has a chain of command separate from the country's regular armed forces and responsibilities that include safeguarding the ideals of the 1979 revolution. It answers directly to Khamenei. The move came a day after the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran refused to answer questions about possible nuclear-weapons activity and expanded its production of atomic fuel in its latest defiance of demands by the UN to halt uranium enrichment. The U.S. and several major partners have accused Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, while the government in Tehran has insisted that its program is peaceful, intended to generate electricity, and legal under the nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty, to which the country is a signatory. The Bush administration says it favors a diplomatic solution to the dispute, though it hasn't ruled out military attacks.
Nuclear Sites
On June 2, Israeli warplanes carried out an exercise in the eastern Mediterranean Sea that was interpreted by military analysts as a rehearsal for a strike on Iranian nuclear sites. In July, the U.S. Fifth Fleet conducted maneuvers to practice protecting Gulf oil rigs. Days later Iran said its military test- fired a missile with a 2,000-kilometer (1,243-mile) range. ``In case of venturing into hostility with Iran, the U.S.'s 200,000 troops in the region would be in serious danger,'' IRNA cited Safavi, who is Khamenei's armed forces adviser, as saying. The government in Tehran has indicated several times that it may respond to any attack by closing the Strait of Hormuz, a chokepoint between Iran and Oman at the mouth of the Persian Gulf through which about a fifth of the world's daily oil supply is shipped. ``The Revolutionary Guards' naval forces are more active in the Persian Gulf than the navy and their equipment is very advanced,'' said Akbar Montajabi, a political analyst and deputy editor-in-chief of the privately owned weekly Shahrvand Emrouz. ``They are playing the main role in the Gulf. They have their fingers on the pulse of the Hormuz Strait.''
`Promotional Dimension'
The announcement today gave their role an official stamp, and also had a ``promotional dimension,'' he said. The decision was a means of responding to ``threats that are every now and again expressed about possible military attacks against Iran,'' Montajabi said. Iran's defiance over its nuclear program may increase pressure from the U.S. and its allies. Tension between Russia and the West over the Georgia conflict has sharpened Russian opposition to pressuring Iran at the UN, U.S. and British envoys said last week. That may limit the prospects for a fourth round of UN Security Council sanctions against the Persian Gulf country. China indicated today that it may not be prepared to back further sanctions. China and Russia are both veto-wielding, permanent members of the UN Security Council. ``China has always believed that negotiation is the only way to resolve the Iran nuclear issue,'' Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said at a regular media briefing today in Beijing. ``I don't think sanctions are the way out.'' France will back U.S. moves for a fourth round of sanctions, the French Foreign Ministry said. ``We have no choice but to work, in the coming days and weeks, on a new sanctions resolution at the Security Council,'' ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Ladane Nasseri in Tehran at

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