In a speech in Shahroud, north-east of Iran, on December 4, 2018, the mullahs’ president Hassan Rouhani stated: “If the United States wants to stop the sale of Iranian oil one day, the oil will not be exported from the Persian Gulf at all.” This position of Rouhani revealed the new policy of the Islamic Republic.
“If we are banned from using the Strait of Hormuz, we will close it,” Alireza Tangsiri, commander of the IRGC’s Navy, told Al-Alam network on April 22, 2019. This was not the beginning of a threat, but the beginning of IRGC’s moves for future destructive actions.
From this date, the Revolutionary Guards and Iran’s regional policy entered a new phase. Especially after the Islamic Republic failed to export more oil since the beginning of 2019, and oil exports fell below 300,000 BPD. The course of events in 2019, however, was very significant:
- On May 6, 2019, the Saudi port of Yanbu (west of Medina), one of the country’s most important ports and one of the country’s main tourist cities, was targeted by a Houthi rocket attack. The Houthis launched a campaign to attack commercial centers and airports with missiles and training provided by the IRGC.
- Fujairah port is located on the shores of the Oman Sea and is about 140 km from the Strait of Hormuz. Some major international oil companies, such as Total and Shell, are stationed in the port to export UAE oil. The UAE has previously said it plans to divert most of its oil to the port of Fujairah without having to cross the Strait of Hormuz to supply it to world markets. On May 12, 2019, four ships exploded in the port of Fujairah, causing significant damage to the port’s naval facilities. According to the Al-Hayat newspaper, two Saudi-flagged ships, one UAE-flagged and the other Norwegian were targeted. Two Saudi-owned tankers were Al-Marzouqa and Amjad, the third tanker named Michel belonged to the UAE, and the fourth tanker under the name “Andre Victory” belonged to Norway. The sabotage operation in Fujairah and the significant damage done to the tankers was a state-sponsored and professional move. It was clear that the Revolutionary Guards had expanded their offensive to disrupt maritime transit and ship security. Hamed Rahimpour, the international secretary of the state-run Khorasan newspaper (affiliated with the IRGC), tweeted explicitly acknowledging who was behind the attacks:
Text of tweet: “All our options are on the table, both Yanbu and Fujairah were hit, the two ports supposed to replace Iran’s oil provisions! They were hit before they could say who hit them!
- On June 13, 2019, an attack on two tankers near the Strait of Hormuz and the release of a video of IRGC boats in suspicious action beside the tanker by the US military caused a wave of reactions. The first tanker, Front Altair, was moving from the UAE to Taiwan, and the second, Kokuka Courageous, was moving from Saudi Arabia to Singapore. One of the two tankers belonged to Japan and the other to Norway. On the day of the incident, the US military released a video taken by its drones showing IRGC members in a small boat separating unexploded ammunition from one of the tankers.
- Another incident that took place in the Persian Gulf and showed the destructive actions by the IRGC took place on June 20, 2019. The Revolutionary Guards shot down a US Navy RQ-4A Global Hawk drone on June 23 with an air defense system. The IRGC’s Khatam al-Anbiya air defense base claimed that the drone had violated the airspace of the Islamic Republic of Iran and was therefore targeted. But it was clear that this was an excuse for the IRGC to heat the fire in the Persian Gulf, and that this aggressive and tactical move was a major trap for the West.
- On the evening of Friday, July 19, 2019, the Revolutionary Guards announced that a British oil tanker named Stena Impero had been detained for violating international maritime laws. It was clear this was a cover-up for their offensive actions. The seizure of the Stena Impro came at a time when Britain was embroiled in a political turmoil ahead of the new parliamentary elections and the controversy between the nominees for the Prime Minister’s office and the issue of Britain’s exit from the European Union. In fact, with these bold actions, the Revolutionary Guards sought to bully and strain international relations.
- But the most critical destructive and adventurous action of the Islamic Republic and specifically the Revolutionary Guards in the region took place on Saturday, September 14, 2019.
Saudi Aramco’s oil production facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais in eastern Saudi Arabia came under heavy missile, and drone strikes. Although the Yemeni Ansarullah movement claimed responsibility for the attack, the type, and quality of the attacks and the documents that were later released showed that the attacks took place from southern Iran. In a press conference held in Washington DC, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) revealed documents and information provided by the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) depicting the procedure leading to the attack from Iran by the IRGC.
The attacks caused widespread fires in two refineries belonging to Aramco. Significant damage and fire at the facility shut it down and affected Saudi Arabia’s oil production of 5 million BPD, which supplies about 5 percent of global oil, halving global oil production and destabilizing the country. Financial markets were destabilized globally.
- The attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad on December 31, 2019, by Iraqi militias and supporters of Iranian-affiliated groups, was one of the essential and adventurous actions that the Islamic Republic resorted to. The attack came in response to a US bombing of the Hezbollah battalions. The assailants marched before the US embassy with the flags of the Hashd-a-sha’bi, Asaeb Ahl al-Haq, and Hezbollah battalions, and sought to infiltrate and destroy major areas through tense actions and the destruction of facilities, and burned certain parts of the US embassy premises.