Iranian naval presence in the Atlantic is a turning point: Army chief

June 15, 2021 - 17:40

TEHRAN – The commander of the Iranian Army has described the presence of the Iranian warships in the Western Hemisphere as a “turning point”. 

Speaking at a ceremony on Monday to mark the delivery of Dena destroyer and Shahin minesweeper to the Navy, Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi said Iran's naval vessels are capable of sailing 14,000 kilometers away from the country's waters without docking in other countries' ports.

The comments by the Army chief comes as an Iranian destroyer and support vessel are now sailing in the Atlantic Ocean on a rare mission far from Iran.

The naval mission is being carried out by the vessel Makran and the destroyer Sahand, which is “completely manufactured” by Iran.

Major General Mousavi said no obstacle could hinder the mission, IRNA reported.

Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, the deputy Army chief for coordination affairs, has said the naval mission is increasing Iran’s “strategic depth” in the sea.

In a commentary published on Sunday, Sayyari wrote the naval fleet has entered the Atlantic Ocean without requesting access to a foreign port to show “its powerful presence in open seas in accordance with international maritime rules.”

“The Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran had succeeded to send its naval fleet to distant waters including the Indian Ocean, the Pacific, and the Mediterranean. And now is able to materialize the promise of presence in the Atlantic Ocean, a move that is considered a new chapter for presence in open and distant seas,” remarked Sayyari, the former Navy commander.

Through its powerful presence in open seas thousands of kilometers away from domestic coasts, Iran once again “reminded that it is able to meet its needs and conduct difficult maritime missions,” the admiral noted.

Sayyari said presence in distant waters helps promote national diplomacy and create an opportunity for exchange of knowledge and information between maritime forces across the world.

He also said the mission brought “dignity for our dear country.”

The admiral added Iran’s presence in open seas sends “message of peace and friendship” to the world. 

In remarks on Thursday, Sayyari also said, “We consider our presence in international waters an inalienable strategic right of the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy and we will continue on this path with strength.”

"When we declared our intention to enter the Atlantic Ocean, some countries, including the global arrogance, stated that the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy was not capable of doing that," Sayyari said, "but in practice they saw that we did it with strength."

The Iranian Navy's ultimate mission, he explained, "is to defend the maritime borders and protect the resources and interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran at sea, a mission which the Navy has successfully completed so far."

“Enemies are deeply concerned”

The Iranian Navy chief said on Monday that adversaries are deeply concerned about the presence of Iran’s naval fleet in the Atlantic Ocean.

Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi also made the remarks on the sidelines of the ceremony on Monday during which the destroyer Dena and minesweeper Shahin joined the Iranian naval fleet.

“The presence of the naval fleet of the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy in the Atlantic Ocean has greatly worried the enemies of the country,” Press TV quoted Khanzadi as saying.

"This is while the presence of the strategic naval forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran is aimed at [promoting] cooperation with [littoral] countries in the Atlantic Ocean," he pointed out.

The Navy commander said the American media outlets and the country's officials have been preoccupied over the recent weeks with the arrival of the naval fleet.

Makran is a ship that has been manufactured to carry out long-distance operations and has equipment enabling it to conduct missions anywhere, Khanzadi said.

Elsewhere in his remarks, the Navy commander said as stipulated by Leader of the Islamic Revolution, "high seas belong to all nations and we are now sailing in high seas of the world and this is our first presence in the Atlantic Ocean."

The senior commander emphasized that the Iranian naval forces are bent on boosting friendly ties with other countries under the flag of the Islamic Republic.

"We do not need any port or coast to berth and enjoy necessary abilities and power for any kind of operations in that region," Khanzadi stated.

“Iranian warships rattles Washington”

The British newspaper Independent has said Iranian warships have entered the Atlantic Ocean for the first time ever, raising alarms by United States officials and Washington hawks.

The newspaper said the warships reached the south Atlantic on Thursday, likely en route to Venezuela, which has increasingly become an economic and military partner of Tehran. Iran has friendly relations with Cuba, where the ships could make a port call.

The Iranian television broadcast a video showing Sahand sailing through the choppy winter waters of the south Atlantic.

The two ships left the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas on May 10 and traveled 6,000 nautical miles through the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean and around Africa to reach the Atlantic.

The 310-foot Sahand is an Iranian-made frigate. The 755-foot Makran is a converted oil tanker that includes a helicopter pad and can serve as a base for small boats, the Independent said.

Analysts have assessed that the ships are likely carrying military equipment, possibly naval swift boats, bound for Venezuela. There appears to be nothing in international law that bars such conventional weapons transfers between Iran and Venezuela, nor any prohibition on Iranian warships traversing international waters.

But the subject of the ships’ passage has been raised by well-funded Washington pressure groups and their allied lawmakers. The administration of President Joe Biden has urged both Cuba and Venezuela to turn the ships away should they arrive in the Caribbean.

During a hearing on Thursday with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin of the Senate Armed Services committee, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, warned that allowing the ships to dock would be a potentially perilous milestone. He said he was informed that the ships contained weapons to be provided to Venezuela as part of a deal brokered a year ago between Tehran and Caracas.

“The precedent of allowing Iran to provide weapons to the region causes me great concern,” he said.

Austin declined to publicly reveal what if any intelligence the U.S. has gathered about the nature of the weapons or cargo aboard the ship.

"I am absolutely concerned about the proliferation of weapons, any type of weapons, in our neighborhood," Austin said. "And so, I share your concern."

U.S. officials have said they are closely monitoring the passage of the ships while at the same time continuing to negotiate the 2015 nuclear deal.  A United Nations prohibition on sales and export of Iranian weapons expired in October despite the vehement opposition of the former administration of Donald Trump.

"Regardless of what these ships carry, there is no ban on the purchase and sale of weapons by Iran,” Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said. “America did its best to maintain the sanctions last year, but failed miserably.”

On Thursday, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said, “We’re prepared to leverage our applicable authorities, including sanctions, against any actor that enables Iran’s on-going provision of weapons to violent partners and to proxies.”

“We will continue to apply pressure on Iran if it attempts to transfer any weapons to violent partners and proxies,” he said. “If this is an effort to transfer weapons or otherwise to violate its international obligations, we would be prepared to respond.”

CNN also said the ships are being monitored by the U.S., and the intelligence community is working to assess what Iran's intentions are.

Satellite imagery reveals one of them is carrying a type of small, fast-attack boats. However, multiple U.S. officials told CNN last week that it is unclear if the ships are carrying any weapons.

According to Newsweek, the U.S. military is closely watching the movements of two Iranian warships sent out to the Atlantic Ocean for the first time on a mission to safeguard the interests of the Islamic Republic on the high seas.

"We're monitoring this deployment of these two ships," Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters on Friday.

Amid speculation that the naval contingent consisting of Moudge-class destroyer Sahand and the intelligence-gathering vessel Makran was headed to Venezuela, Kirby declined to discuss what the objectives of the ships might be, but emphasized that they would remain within the sights of U.S. forces.

"I believe questions should be put to leaders in Tehran about what their intent is," Kirby said. "So I'm not going to speculate about what they think they're trying to achieve, but we are monitoring it and keeping an eye on it."

The following day, U.S. Navy spokesperson Captain Pamela Kunze delivered a similar message on behalf of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command.

"NORAD and USNORTHCOM are aware of the deployment of the Iranian Navy ships, IRINS Makran and IRIS Sahand," Kunze told Newsweek. "NORAD and USNORTHCOM coordinate globally across all domains to maintain awareness on the activities of all vessels, foreign and domestic, in our areas of operation. As you would expect, we are closely monitoring the situation."

In a commentary on Thursday, Foreign Policy said the United States cannot take action under international law against two Iranian ships on voyage toward the North Atlantic Ocean even if the vessels are violating U.S. sanctions.

Citing three people familiar with the situation, the American news website said the vessels have been heading south along the east coast of Africa.

Foreign Policy argued that any U.S. action against the vessels would be unlawful and undermine sovereign immunity as a core tenet of international order.

“The costs of direct action would be severe, exposing the United States to charges of hypocrisy toward the rules-based order and potentially opening U.S. naval vessels to similar treatment by adversaries,” the American news publication said, arguing that the United States should “employ diplomacy rather than force” and encourage states along the route to deny the Iranian vessels port access if requested.

It added that in times of peace, sovereign immunity is a practically all-powerful ward against a foreign state’s jurisdiction, with exceptions only in extreme circumstances involving failed states, fake warships, or weapons of mass destruction. “This case, however, is textbook.”

While Tehran has not commented on the ships’ destination nor their cargo, it has pointed out that there is no ban on Iran’s sale of weapons to other countries under UN Security Council Resolution 2231