TEHRAN, Oct 29 (Reuters) An Iranian commander suggested today that the Basij religious militia would be capable of disrupting strategic Gulf oil shipping routes with a small operation if ever the need arose.
''The area of Persian Gulf and strategic Strait of Hormuz is such that a small operation can have a big outcome,'' Brigadier General Ali Fahdavi, deputy head of the Revolutionary Guards' naval force, told a rally of Basijis, Fars News Agency reported.
The Revolutionary Guards is the ideological wing of Iran's military which commands the Basij militia. It has previously suggested it could, if pushed, disrupt oil flows in the Gulf and the narrow Strait of Hormuz at its mouth of the oil-rich region.
Iran is locked in a standoff with the West which accuses Tehran of seeking atomic bombs. The United States has said it would not rule out force if diplomacy fails to end the row.
Iran says its nuclear aims are peaceful and that it would respond to any US attack, including targeting US interests.
''The quantity of Basijis is not important, what is important is quality of their presence because each one of them can carry out big actions,'' Fahdavi said at a ceremony marking the death of a 13-year-old Basij who died trying to destroy a tank in the 1980s war with Iraq.
''Of course the Basiji's culture has the advantage of the martyrdom-seeking spirit and this spirit now exists in the whole of the Revolutionary Guards,'' he said.
''The future of the world's energy is in this region.
Therefore, the importance of the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz is not comparable with anywhere else,'' he added.
The Basijis are a paramilitary force who loyally uphold Islamic revolutionary values. In the war with Iraq, they provided much of the manpower for the front. In peacetime, they help enforce Iran's strict Islamic dress and other moral codes.
REUTERS GT PM0008