U.S. Intel Warns Iran Plotting ‘Tactical Surprise’ Attacks in Gulf

Iran and terror proxies escalating attacks, developing sophisticated weaponry as standoff heats up

An Iranian navy warship in the Strait of Hormuz

An Iranian navy warship in the Strait of Hormuz / Getty Images

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Intelligence indicates that the Iranian regime is using its terror proxy groups to conduct attacks on ships operating in the Strait of Hormuz, a critical Persian Gulf shipping lane that has become the center of international tensions as Tehran seeks to foment instability in reaction to President Donald Trump's efforts to strangle the hardline regime.

U.S. intelligence collected over the past month had indicated that Iran has been installing missiles on small vessels in the Gulf region. Tehran is relying on a large network of terror proxies and allies to attack not only commercial vessels in the region, but also U.S. military assets stationed there.

Iran has a long history of conducting terror attacks in this manner, fueling worry in the Trump administration that Tehran could carry out a large-scale attack via its terror networks. Iran has been identified as being responsible for at least 143 attacks against shipping vessels in the Gulf during the last two years of the Iran-Iraq War, according to expert analyses of the ongoing tensions in the region.

There is further evidence Tehran is developing a range of tactical weapons and smaller vessels that could pose significant problems for the U.S. Navy and its larger boats, according to U.S. intelligence assessments and experts.

The Trump administration has responded by sending greater U.S. military assets to the region and issuing a range of sanctions. Trump himself has warned the Iranian regime at multiple junctures, including during the weekend, that any attack on the United States or its allies will result in a crushing response.

Four commercial ships were damaged last week in the Gulf and carry the hallmarks of Iranian-backed attacks.

"While details remain murky, this development underscores how Tehran and its proxies may exploit maritime vulnerabilities in the region," the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, or FDD, a think-tank with close ties the Trump administration, noted in a recent policy brief on the situation.

"Tehran has a history of targeting civilian vessels transiting the Gulf and threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which approximately one fifth of the world's seaborne oil passes," FDD stated in a policy briefing issued by veteran military intelligence experts Andrew Gabel and Bradley Bowman. "During the last two years of the Iran-Iraq War, Iran conducted 143 attacks against shipping in the Gulf. Last month, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) Commander Rear Admiral Alireza Tangsiri threatened to close the strait."

Iran has a history of using its terror proxies to conduct attacks in order to shield the regime from responsibility and avoid sparking a large-scale war that would surely end in the Islamic Republic's destruction.

"To avoid international condemnation and direct confrontation with the United States military, Tehran may use covert operators to conduct attacks," FDD noted in its brief. "This could include the use of divers or crew members to sabotage vessels. Such an approach would be consistent with Tehran's use of proxies and asymmetrical terrorist attacks. Such tactics enable Tehran to achieve its objectives at a relatively low cost, while evading attribution and consequences."

Similarly, a weekend rocket attack near the U.S. embassy in Baghdad also bared the hallmark of Iran. Sources in the region told the Washington Free Beacon the attack was likely conducted by Iran's Hezbollah assets in Iraq.

While Iran could not compete with U.S. forces in a conventional war, the hardline regime in Tehran has focused on developing smaller military vessels that carry sophisticated weaponry suited for fast attacks.

"According to the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), the IRGCN deploys ‘smaller, faster platforms equipped with sophisticated weaponry, ideally suited for its asymmetric doctrine,'" FDD stated in its brief. "Leading acquisition priorities for the IRGCN have included ‘fast attack craft, small boats, anti-ship cruise missiles, and mines.'"

In fact, "the IRGCN used these fast attack craft and small boats to harass U.S. Navy vessels," a routine occurrence as of late in the Persian Gulf, according to FDD. "ONI assesses that the IRGCN believes it can prevail in the confined Gulf waters by using its weapons and systems ‘in unexpected ways to achieve tactical surprise,' including so-called ‘swarm‘ attacks of small boats and anti-ship missiles, which could present tactical complications for the U.S. Navy."

"Given Tehran's long history of terrorism and harassment in the Gulf—as well as the regime's recent threats and military exercises—Iran may escalate attacks on maritime traffic in the Gulf and Strait of Hormuz," according to FDD.

Adam Kredo   Email Adam | Full Bio | RSS
Adam Kredo is senior writer reporting on national security and foreign policy matters for the Washington Free Beacon. An award-winning political reporter who has broken news from across the globe, Kredo’s work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary Magazine, the Drudge Report, and the Jerusalem Post, among many others. His Twitter handle is @Kredo0. His email address is kredo@freebeacon.com.

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