IRGC Admiral Alireza Tangsiri is the sixth commander that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy has had since its inception in 1985. He is one of the IRGC's most hardline commanders and a favorite of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is commander-in-chief of Iran’s armed forces.
The secret to Tangsiri’s fast-tracked career in the IRGC's chain of command over the past eight years -- culminating in his latest appointment -- is Khamenei's approval of his anti-U.S. comments and actions, which have at times brought Iran to the brink of a serious standoff with the United States in the Persian Gulf.
In Khamenei's rhetoric, the word "enemy" is often used to describe the United States, next to Israel, and he would promote anyone, including those in uniform, who agree with him. One such commander is Tangsiri, whose track record is full of anti-U.S. words and actions that have usually been praised by Khamenei. These stances portray Tangsiri as a more hardline officer and put him in a position higher than former IRGC Naval Force Commander Ali Fadavi.
A review of Tangsiri's comments about domestic politics and the challenges of Iran-U.S. relations, as well as his verbal attacks on Khamenei's domestic and foreign critics after the disputed presidential elections in 2009, have met with Khamenei’s tacit approval.
Iran's Long-Reach Strategy and Chasing the U.S. to the Gulf of Mexico
One point of common ground between Khamenei and commanders such as Tangsiri is their claim of pursuing a long-reach strategy. This strategy is based on the idea of not limiting a possible confrontation between the IRGC and U.S. forces to the Persian Gulf. In September 2007, Khamenei said "a hit-and-run military aggression against Iran is no longer possible."
"If the enemy decides to clash with us, we would chase them even to the Gulf of Mexico," Tangsiri said based on Khamenei's strategy.
Tangsiri speaks openly about the possibility of suicide missions against U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf. "There are people who would crash themselves into U.S. warships with explosives," he said.
In several episodes where Iranian naval forces detained U.S., British, Canadian, and Australian naval personnel in the Persian Gulf, Tangsiri has usually been a central player in the operations.
He has said that the arrests marked the IRGC's authority and defensive power. In January 2016, when Iran detained 10 US marines after they entered Iranian waters following an engine failure, Tangsiri, who was IRGC Navy deputy commander at the time, characterized the event as "U.S. forces surrendering to Iran."
"We are proud that we have made the Americans surrender twice. Once in the north of the Persian Gulf and once more when we arrested 10 U.S. marines," he said. This was while the IRGC had officially acknowledged that the U.S. vessel had entered Iranian waters "accidentally." Nevertheless, Khamenei invited senior IRGC Navy commanders to his office and decorated Fadavi with a "victory medal," and promoted four other IRGC commanders.
Also, in 2007, when the IRGC confiscated British ships and arrested 15 British sailors near the Farsi Island, Tangsiri took the lead and acted as IRGC spokesman, although the event had not taken place in waters under his watch in Bandar Abbas. Then President Mahmud Ahmadinejad released the sailors and officially saw them off 11 days later, after he received a threat from the UK prime minister.
Still one more time in 2009 IRGC arrested five British sailors. Again, it was Tangsiri who confirmed the arrest. Shortly afterward, Tangsiri was promoted to the rank of admiral and was appointed deputy commander of the IRGC Navy. He served in that post for eight years until Khamenei appointed him the force's commander on August 23.
His appointment is significant because of his track record as well as its timing. He is now commander of Iranian forces in the first line of defense against U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf. This is where tens of Iranian and U.S. military vessels take to the sea every day.
The timing of the appointment is also important as tensions between Iran and the United States are at a peak, and the United States is preparing to impose sanctions on Iran's oil exports in about two months. The sanctions aim to reduce Tehran's oil sales to zero.
President Hassan Rouhani has threatened that "no other country can export their oil via the Persian Gulf if Iran cannot do so." The forces under Tangsiri's command will control the waters from the Strait of Hormuz to the mouth of the Arvand River in the northern region of the Persian Gulf.
In this region, Iran has some 1,200 kilometers of shoreline divided into five operational regions, namely Bandar Abbas, Bushehr, Mahshahr, Asalouyeh, and Bandar Lengeh, where Iran's speedboats, shore-to-sea missile launchers, anti-aircraft batteries, special forces, commandoes, and marines are based. All of these regions are under Tangsiri’s command.
The IRGC Navy was established while Iran was at war with its neighbor Iraq, but most of its growth and development took place after the war, when its mission changed to operating mainly against the U.S. Navy.