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Friday, October 31, 2008

Iran opens new naval base in Straits of Hormuz

NICOSIA — Iran has opened a major naval base in the Gulf and has vowed to use it to block the passage of oil tankers through the strategic waterway if necessary.

Officials said the Iranian Navy has constructed a base in the Strait of Hormuz, passage for 30 percent of global oil shipping. They said the base, located near U.S. military facilities in neighboring Oman, was meant to tighten Iran's hold over the narrow waterway.

"With the opening of this naval base a new line of defense has been created east of the Strait of Hormuz," Iranian Navy commander Adm. Habibollah Sayari said.

Sayari said the base was located in the Iranian port of Jask on the Sea of Oman. The admiral said the navy was capable of blocking any enemy infiltration in the region.

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"We can prevent the entry of any enemy naval units into the strategic Persian Gulf area if need be," Sayari said. "The army needed new bases on the Sea of Oman given the presence of forces from outside the region in the waters around Iran."

The base was announced on Oct. 29 in wake of a series of Gulf exercises, meant to test new weapons and tactics. The navy has reported the development of new torpedoes and land-strike missiles.

Over the last month, Teheran lowered its alert of an Israeli or U.S. air strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. But officials said the Iranian leadership continued to debate the merits of a preemptive strike on Israel.

A senior Iranian official, Sayed Safavi, told a private meeting of diplomats in London in October that Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei was considering several proposals to launch a strike against Israel from either Lebanon or Syria. Safavi, director of Research Institute of Strategic Studies in Teheran, said the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps was drafting plans for a major attack on Israel that would not be directly attributable to Iran.

Safavi, brother of former IRGC commander Gen. Yahya Safavi, said IRGC and much of the Iranian leadership have not dismissed the prospect of an Israeli air operation to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities. He said the spate of Israeli threats in September and October have intensified planning of an Iranian response.

"The recent Israeli declarations and harsh rhetoric on a strike against Iran put ammunition in the hands of these individuals," Safavi said.

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