IRGC naval chief threatens to close key strait, vows response to Syria strike coming

Alireza Tangsiri says revenge for alleged Israeli killing of Guard commander won’t be ‘hasty,’ says Iran opposed to Israel’s ties with the UAE, which also sits on Strait of Hormuz

An Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel watches an American warship in the Strait of Hormuz, May 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)
File: An Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel watches an American warship in the Strait of Hormuz, May 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

DUBAI — The commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard’s navy said on Tuesday that Israel’s presence in the United Arab Emirates was viewed as a threat by Tehran and warned that Tehran could close the Strait of Hormuz if deemed necessary.

Iran has threatened to retaliate for what it alleged was an Israeli airstrike on its consulate in Syria’s capital on April 1 that killed seven Revolutionary Guards officers, including two senior commanders — stoking tensions between the arch-enemies already heightened by the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

“We do not get hit without striking back, but we are also not hasty in our retaliation,” Revolutionary Guards Navy Commander Alireza Tangsiri said, according to Iran’s semi-official Student News Agency.

“We can close the Hormuz Strait, but are not doing so. However, if the enemy comes to disrupt us, we will review our policy,” Tangsiri said.

Iran has threatened to close the strait in response to tensions with Israel and the US in the past.

About a fifth of the volume of the world’s total oil consumption passes through the strait on a daily basis. An average of 20.5 million barrels per day of crude oil, condensate and oil products passed through Hormuz in January-September 2023, data from analytics firm Vortexa showed.

File: Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi (right) waves as he visits an exhibition of the Revolutionary Guard navy capabilities while accompanied by the guard’s navy commander Alireza Tangsiri, in the southern port city of Bandar Abbas, Iran, February 2, 2024. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

The UAE, situated across the Gulf from Iran, became the most prominent Arab nation to forge diplomatic ties with Israel in 30 years under a US-brokered accord in 2020, though Abu Dhabi also has normal diplomatic and commercial relations with Tehran. A senior official told The Times of Israel in January that the warm ties between Abu Dhabi and Jerusalem may turn cold if the war against Hamas drags on.

“We know that the Zionists [Israel] were not brought to the UAE for economic purposes, but rather for security and military work. This is a threat to us and should not happen,” Tangsiri added.

Israel has been on high alert over the past week amid Iranian officials’ promises of revenge for a Damascus airstrike that killed their top commander in Syria, Mohammad Reza Zahedi, alongside six other members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and at least one member of Iranian proxy group Hezbollah.

Israel has signaled that it will attack targets in Iran if it were to launch a direct strike, according to a report in the London-based Elaph News, citing an anonymous “Western security official.”

IRGC official Mohammad Reza Zahedi, on July 2, 2017. (Ali Khara/Fars Media Corporation, via Wikimedia CC BY 4.0)

According to the report, Israel has been conducting air force drills in recent days that include preparing to target Iranian nuclear facilities and other key infrastructure.

Unnamed US intelligence sources told CNN, however, that Iran is unlikely to attack Israel directly out of fear of American and Israeli reprisal, and will instead urge its various proxies — in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen — to launch attacks on its behalf in the coming days.

Zahedi was reportedly responsible for the IRGC Quds Force’s operations in Syria and Lebanon, for Iranian militias there, and for ties with Hezbollah, and was thus the most senior commander of Iranian forces in the two countries. The 63-year-old was the most important Iranian soldier killed since the US strike on Baghdad airport that killed Quds Force leader General Qassem Soleimani in 2020. The IRGC is a US-designated terrorist organization.

Analysts saw the raid as an escalation of Israel’s campaign against Iran and its regional proxies that runs the risk of triggering a wider war beyond the Israel-Hamas conflict in the Gaza Strip.

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