June 7, 2010

Iranian commandos to escort aid ships to Gaza?

It just gets better and better.

IRGC gunboat

Two announcements from Iran promise to keep the so-called Gaza "freedom flotilla" confrontation with Israel in the headlines - and possibly divert attention from the expected Iran sanctions resolution in the United Nations Security Council.

First, the Iranian Red Crescent said that is has decided to send two aid ships to Gaza, and the office of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stated that the Iranians will deploy Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps naval units to the Mediterranean Sea to escort aid convoys attempting to run the Israeli blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

These two announcements are not a coincidence - this is part of an Iranian government plan to divert attention from itself and its nuclear program. That program is currently the subject of sanctions deliberations in the United Nations. By maintaining the region's and world's focus on Israel and the blockade of Gaza, the debate in New York is no longer front page material.

The pronouncements and bluster from Tehran are one thing, but let's inject some reality into this.

The Iranian Red Crescent might be able to charter aid ships - the Iranians have the funds to make it happen. They might even get a crew willing to attempt to pass through the Israeli blockade, but it's doubtful they will find a captain willing to challenge an Israeli navy order to turn back. There is precedent for this - a few years ago Iran chartered a vessel to attempt a similar trip, but it was turned back without incident.

Of course, the whole idea that Iran needs to use aid ships to get supplies into Gaza is laughable. The IRGC has been smuggling weapons - which are heavier than relief supplies - into Gaza for years. Although the Israelis have occasionally attempted to interdict the flow of arms, it has largely been unsuccessful.

Now we come to the IRGC naval arm operating in the Mediterranean. First, of course, they have to get there with enough vessels and maybe supporting air assets that have the wherewithal to confront one of the most formidable navies in the region. The thought that the IRGC's gunboats are going to challenge the Israeli navy in its own backyard is ludicrous.

This is yet again Iranian posturing to deflect attention from themselves. It has worked before and they hope it will work again.