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Iranian press review: Revolutionary Guard to set up naval base in Indian Ocean

Meanwhile, Iranians hold funerals and weddings despite coronavirus regulations, and Iran delivers supplies to sanctions-hit Venezuela
Iran coronavirus statue with face mask AFP
A statue wearing a face mask stands amid others in Tehran on 16 June (AFP)

Iran to set up new base in Indian Ocean

Iran’s navy force will build its first permanent base in the Indian Ocean by the end of the current Iranian year, which is 20 March 2021, domestic news agencies reported.

Monday’s announcement by Alireza Tangsiri, head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN), prompted speculations that Iran is expanding its strategy of asymmetric warfare beyond the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.

According to Tangsiri, the IRGCN’s presence in Iranian territorial waters, which are directly connected to the Indian Ocean, aims to protect Iranian fishing ships against piracy and “some foreign warships”.

This will be the first time that IRGC’s navy force builds a base outside the Persian Gulf, and Tangsiri said the move was made in response to an order by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In 2008, Khamenei, who is also commander-in-chief of Iran’s armed forces, tasked IRGC with protecting Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf, and the regular army’s navy with protecting the Sea of Oman and the Indian Ocean.

In an analysis, the Javan daily wrote that the country’s armed forces are attempting to expand IRGC strategies in the Sea of Oman, following the United States' navy reinforcement in Iran’s southern territorial waters.

The naval force of IRGC, which mainly consists of speed boats and anti-ship missiles, has been trained to apply asymmetrical warfare against US aircraft carriers and warships in the Persian Gulf.

Meanwhile, the pro-conservative Vatan Emrooz daily wrote that setting up a permanent IRGC base in the Sea of Oman is a sign of opening a new front against American forces at the sea.

The paper suggested that an Iranian military base close to the Indian Ocean provides a wider area of coverage for the anti-ship missiles used by Iranian armed forces.

“If an armed confrontation takes place [between Iran and the US], this military base could serve as a centre to expand the conflict to the Indian Ocean, where the US forces are stationed,” the daily concluded.

Tensions between Tehran and Washington remain high despite a recent successful prisoners exchange. Following the United States' withdrawal in 2018 from the Obama-era multinational nuclear deal, Iran said it had abandoned all limitations set by the accord. Since then, Washington has initiated a "maximum pressure" campaign on Tehran, regularly announcing new additions to already crippling sanctions against the country. 

Ceremonies despite official ban

Iranians have found a way to bypass a government ban on ceremonial events during the coronavirus pandemic - by going underground.

In the Kurdish city of Kermanshah, residents have been illegally holding funerals and weddings in basement venues, reported the semi-official ISNA news agency.

Meanwhile, affluent Iranians have been throwing wedding parties on roof gardens and private parking lots despite government guidelines that prohibit such activities, according to Khabar Online.

Iran, with limited access to essential medicines and economic power to impose a long-term lockdown due to the US total embargo on its economy, is the worst-hit country in the Middle East by Covid-19. 

This week, Iran’s coronavirus death toll surpassed 10,000, according to official numbers. And illegally held gatherings are partly to blame for the continuous rise in infections.

Last week, the Tasnim news agency reported that 120 persons were infected by the coronavirus at a wedding party in one Iranian city. The news agency did not reveal in which city the incident took place.

Deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi has also warned that a second wave of the coronavirus has been spreading in the country through funerals and wedding parties.

“Now the funerals and wedding parties are the Achilles’ heel in combating the coronavirus pandemic in Iran,” Harirchi was quoted by Iran’s YJC news network as saying.

Iran reported its first coronavirus cases on 19 February, and it has since struggled to contain the pandemic. The Islamic republic's official figures have shown an upward trajectory in new cases of the virus since early May.

Iran and Venezuela expand ties

An Iranian cargo ship docked in Venezuela with supplies on Monday in the latest collaboration between the two countries, both of which are under harsh sanctions imposed by the United States.

In an interview with the Lebanon-based Al Mayadeen news network, the Iranian ambassador to Venezuela Hojatollah Soltani said that the Golsan cargo ship had carried food to the Latin American country.

According to Soltani, Iran had also delivered medical supplies to Venezuela to help Caracas fight the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“Today, from Iran, a sanctioned country, the first shipment of supplies and equipment, which are sanctioned [by the US but] necessary for the fight against the Covid-19, arrived in Venezuela - another sanctioned country,” Soltani wrote on Twitter.

Soltani’s statement seemed to contradict last week’s report by the Fars news agency, affiliated to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which claimed the Goslan was transferring petrol to Venezuela. 

Since May, Tehran had sent five tankers with over 1.5 million litres of petrol to Venezuela, which despite its large oil resources suffers from a petrol shortage. 

On Wednesday, the US Treasury Department said it had imposed sanctions on five Iranian ship captains it accuses of delivering fuel to Venezuela. 

In a statement, the department said five captains have worked for the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines and the National Iranian Tanker Company, both of which have already been slapped with US sanctions.

Venezuela, home to the world’s largest oil reserves, is almost out of petrol following years of mismanagement and US sanctions on its oil. Over the past few months, authorities have imposed rationing at petrol stations nationwide, handing control over to military personnel, World Oil reported.

The shortage has forced it to rely on imports, but US sanctions have limited the sources and types of fuel it can receive.

Iran's foreign ministry has vowed to continue sending oil shipments to the South American country despite US sanctions against both countries.

Earlier this month, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said he planned to visit Iran to sign cooperation agreements in energy and other sectors.

* Iranian press review is a digest of reports that are not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye