Iran aims to put its warships in international waters off the coast of the United States “in the next few years,” the head of the Iranian navy, Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said on Tuesday.
The official statement, issued on Iranian state TV, was a direct rhetorical response to the Obama administration’s beefed up military and naval presence in the Persian Gulf, less than 100 miles off the Iranian coast.
The truth is, the Iranians make this claim every once in a while – probably less as a statement of actual planned policy and more to show the US what it might be like to have a taste of its own medicine.
“Like the arrogant powers that are present near our marine borders, we will also have a powerful presence close to American marine borders,” Sayyari said almost exactly a year ago.
For years the United States has patrolled a fleet of Navy warships off the Iranian coast in the Persian Gulf, something seen as threatening to Tehran. In January of last year, the Obama administration accelerated the deployment of military vessels off the Iranian coast and placed antimissile systems in at least four Arab countries neighboring Iran.
Most notable is the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain – less than 160 miles off the Iranian coast – which directs operations in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and Arabian Sea and secures the Straits of Hormuz, through which 40 per cent of the world’s seaborne oil passes. It is one of the largest military forces in the region, with over 40 vessels and close to 30,000 personnel.
In April, Washington sent another aircraft carrier into the Persian Gulf. Commander Amy Derrick-Frost of the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet said the deployment was “routine and not specific to any threat.”
Exactly: flooding the Gulf with warships and aircraft carriers holding fighter jets is certainly routine and targets no actual threat. They’re there to police the world and threaten Iran.
When Obama accelerated the deployment of warships to the Gulf in 2010, the New York Times described it as “part of a coordinated administration strategy to increase pressure on Iran” and also “intended to counter the impression that Iran is fast becoming the most powerful military force in the Middle East.”
Onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Gulf’s Strait of Hormuz last February, BBC reporter Jonathan Beale explained, “This carrier and these [fighter] jets are more than just a show of force, they’re here to send a clear message to Iran as to who really controls these waters.”
The US has Iran militarily encircled and there is bipartisan consensus that this is necessary and legitimate. But if the roles were reversed for a moment, as Sayyari suggested, the US would view it as a virtual declaration of war.