Several satellite images released by the private US company Planet Labs have captured what looks like a “cluster” of activity by ships from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in the Strait of Hormuz.
Located between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, the Strait of Hormuz is a crucial channel that oil producers use to transport crude from the Middle East to markets around the world.
Iranian officials have not yet commented on the images released as the Islamic Republic commemorated the first anniversary of the assassination of the commander of the IRGC’s elite Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani.
The general was killed near the Baghdad International Airport on 3 January 2020, in a US drone strike authorised by President Donald Trump.
The commemorative events came about a week after IRGC Brigadier General Mohammad Hejazi made it clear that Tehran taking full-fledged “harsh revenge” for Soleimani’s killing remains a priority despite Iran retaliating by launching a missile attack on Iraqi bases hosting US troops on 8 January 2020.
In another development in late December, Tehran warned Washington against any signs of “adventurism” aimed at militarising the Persian Gulf, voicing hope that the US will finally abandon its policy of “interfering and sowing division among the countries of the region”.
The statement followed an announcement by the US Navy earlier in December that an Ohio-class nuclear-powered submarine, as well as the USS Georgia and accompanying cruisers, had crossed the Strait of Hormuz, in an apparent show of force.
Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani reacted by arguing that America’s increased military activities in the region stemmed from Washington’s fear of the consequences of its past acts of mischief in the area.
Tensions between Iran and the US in the Persian Gulf escalated in 2019 following a series of tanker sabotage attacks off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in mid-May of that year.
The US, who announced that it would be deploying an aircraft carrier strike group to the Middle East region about two weeks before the May attacks, blamed Iran for the sabotage. Tehran responded by rejecting the accusations and accusing the US and its allies of deliberately exacerbating tensions.