Iran launches indigenous ocean-going tanker

Reuters

Malta-flagged Iranian crude oil supertanker "Delvar" is seen anchored off Singapore March 1, 2012.

Article Highlights

  • Iranian authorities have made clear that they will consider asymmetric naval strategies

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  • Both the US & EU have already slapped unilateral sanctions upon the National Iranian Tanker Company

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  • Except for the aircraft carrier and perhaps the fighter jet, there is usually some kernel of truth to the Iranian claims

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Iranian officials regularly announce alleged breakthroughs in their own domestic armament industry. In recent months, for example, they have announced new drones, aircraft, antiaircraft missiles, and submarines, and have even promised to build an aircraft carrier. Except for the aircraft carrier and perhaps the fighter jet, there is usually some kernel of truth to the Iranian claims, although they are seldom as advanced as Iranian officials might claim.

While such claims grab headlines, the announcement of a more modest achievement—launching a new line of indigenous tanker—should register on the radar screens of Western policymakers and security officials for a number of reasons. Press reports describe the 178-meter-long, 32-meter-wide tanker as weighing 35,000 tons, with a five-story, 400-ton superstructure. Its engines reportedly have a propulsion power of 11,200 KW, making it bigger than the Aframax-class tankers which Iranian shipbuilders have constructed for Venezuela.

Both the United States and the European Union have already slapped unilateral sanctions upon the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) in order to leverage pressure upon Iran’s oil exports into Iranian concessions on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Because sanctioning the NITC might hamper the company from purchasing new tankers, the Iranian government will likely claim as a victory the ability to build their own.

The European Union’s ban on reflagging Iranian tankers to third countries—a strategy Iran has used to skirt sanctions —may mean the Iranian government has switched tactics and now seeks to control all aspects of the oil industry, from drilling to delivery.

A larger issue for American and European policymakers may be the security challenge that Iranian-built, Iranian-operated tankers may pose to international shipping and port security. Iranian shipping remains largely under the aegis of Khatam al-Anbia, the economic and commercial wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Iranian authorities have made clear that they recognize that they cannot defeat the United States head-on, and will therefore consider asymmetric naval strategies.

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  • Michael Rubin is a former Pentagon official whose major research areas are the Middle East, Turkey, Iran and diplomacy. Rubin instructs senior military officers deploying to the Middle East and Afghanistan on regional politics, and teaches classes regarding Iran, terrorism, and Arab politics on board deploying U.S. aircraft carriers. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, both pre- and post-war Iraq, and spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. His newest book, Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engagement examines a half century of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups.


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