The head of the Iranian navy, Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, has stated that Iran aims to put warships in international waters off the United States coast “in the next few years.”
The comments were part of a response to Washington’s pronounced naval presence in the Persian Gulf and American plans for maritime war games later this month. Though Iran has made similar claims in the past, current tension over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions gives the proposed move a newfound credibility. At present, the United States naval presence in the region falls under the jurisdiction of the Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain.
Reports of Iran’s deployment of warships across the Atlantic Ocean near the United States coast raise new concerns about the growing display of Iranian naval forces. The arrival of Iranian warships in the Atlantic Ocean represents clear evidence that Tehran’s strategic ambitions are widening.
The purpose of expanding the Iranian navy’s scope is primarily to intimidate the United States and the West and lead them to elevate or ease the pressure on Tehran on the nuclear issue. But increasing, naval activity such as has been proposed embodies a number of objectives that go beyond the subject of simple deterrence.
Iranians aim to restrain the United States at the stage of primary air attack that the American fleet in the Persian Gulf might launch in case of war. Such an attack would probably concentrate on Iranian air force bases and nuclear sites. Therefore, Iran wants to ensure the security of its strategic areas as well as its control over the Strait of Hormuz.
In addition, the presence of the Iranian navy in Atlantic waters, currently dominated by the American fleet, constitute a significant propaganda claim for Tehran that will exaggerate the capabilities of the Iranian armed forces and give its enemies the impression that Iran possesses an overwhelming force.
Also, because Tehran continues to experience an internal power struggle that is weakening the government, such activities may provide the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with an opportunity to promote the image of unity and strength, mostly for local consumption.
Iran sees itself as a regional power and its navy is planning to further strengthen this perception. From this perspective, the Iranian navy will continue to exercise a notable presence in the Persian Gulf while at the same time remaining wary of the American presence and employing caution in this regard.
Wikistrat Bottom Lines
- Iranian naval force is not concentrating only on military aspects but also attempts to boost the country’s economy through its presence in international waters and provide security to international transportation and maritime navigation.
- Iranian naval forces in the proximity of American shores would give Venezuela another opportunity to demonstrate its independence from the United States and its connections to Iran by offering its harbors to Iranian ships.
- Iran’s navy has been successful in operations to free ships hijacked by sea pirates.
- The lack of communication between the Iranian and American naval forces carries the possibility of accidents and incidents that could trigger a large military confrontation.
- Iranian overstretch could lead to heightened tensions and exacerbate splits between factions within Iran.
- Other countries intimidated by the Iranian activities may expand their naval forces leading to a naval arms race across several regions, specifically the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.
- Iran may restrict its actions and limit its initiatives to propaganda.
- Sanctions on Iran will limits its ability to improve its naval capabilities.
Richard Fiesel, Suzane Mneimneh, Nick Nielsen and Zoya Sameen contributed to this analysis.