Iran deploying warships to western Atlantic amid rising tensions with US
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Iran deploying warships to western Atlantic amid rising tensions with US

Islamic republic seeking to counter presence of US aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf by sailing fleet near American waters

Illustrative: Iranian Navy exercise in 2011. (CC BY, Mohammad Sadegh Heydari, Wikimedia Commons)
Illustrative: Iranian Navy exercise in 2011. (CC BY, Mohammad Sadegh Heydari, Wikimedia Commons)

Iran is set to deploy a fleet of warships to the western Atlantic Ocean in the coming months, a naval commander said Friday, in an apparent bid to counter the presence of a US aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.

Rear-Admiral Touraj Hassani told the state-run IRNA news site the flotilla of warships would depart for the Atlantic in March, and the mission would take several months.

“The Atlantic Ocean is a long route, and it is likely that this Iranian mission would take five months to complete,” he said.

Hassani said Iran’s newly launched destroyer, the Sahand, will be part of the fleet. According to reports in Iranian media, the domestically made vessel is equipped with a helicopter landing pad, surface-to-air missiles, anti-aircraft batteries and sophisticated radar and radar-evading capabilities.

The 13,000-ton vessel named after a mountain in northern Iran, joined the Islamic republic’s naval fleet in December.

Iran’s new Sahand destroyer (YouTube screenshot)

Iran, which has been developing its own tanks, armored personnel carriers, missiles and fighter planes as a part of an arms development program initiative since 1992, often boasts of new achievements or acquisitions that cannot be independently verified.

The flotilla announcement is likely intended to boost Iran’s military image amid rising tensions with the United States, which in November re-imposed all sanctions lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

In December, the US deployed an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf, the first since America’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and breaking the longest carrier absence in the volatile region since at least the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

A day after the arrival of the USS John C. Stennis, Iran launched a military drill in the waterway’s strategic Strait of Hormuz, the passageway for nearly a third of all oil traded by sea.

The strait at its narrowest point is 33 kilometers (21 miles) wide, in the waters between Iran and Oman.

The USS Mitscher, part of a strike group led by the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier, sails as an Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel shadows it on December 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

Despite being so narrow and within the territorial waters of those two nations, the strait is viewed as an international transit route. American forces routinely travel through the area, despite sometimes tense encounters with the Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate within the country’s Shiite theocracy whose major achievement was the nuclear deal, has repeatedly warned any attempt to stop Iran’s export of crude oil could see it close off the strait.

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