Iran to deploy warships to Mediterranean in show of force

Navy commander says 24th fleet to fan out across the region and ‘counter threats’ to the Islamic Republic

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

Illustrative photo of an Iranian warship (Alex Hicks, Wikimedia Commons)
Illustrative photo of an Iranian warship (Alex Hicks, Wikimedia Commons)

Iranian warships will be deployed to the Mediterranean sea, the Red Sea and other regional waterways, Tehran’s navy said on Wednesday.

The move will put Iranian firepower at Israel’s doorstep, and likely raise tensions in the already skittish region.

Navy Commander Habibollah Sayyari said Iran’s 24th fleet would be sent to points around the region to act as a show of force and “counter threats” to Iran, according to the semi-official news agency Press TV.

Ships will be sent to the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Suez canal, the Indian ocean and Southeast Asia, Sayyari said.

The Iranian navy has steadily expanded its international presence since 2008, when it began patrolling in the Gulf of Aden to protect commercial vessels owned or leased by Iran against piracy.

Last year, two Iranian warships for the first time in decades traveled through the Suez Canal, extending Iran’s naval reach to the Mediterranean Sea. 

Earlier this month, Iran wrapped up a five-day naval drill, dubbed Velayat-91, near the strategic Strait of Hormuz. State TV said the “Ghader,” or “Capable,” sea-launched anti-ship missile with a range of 200 kilometers (120 miles) was among the weapons used in the maneuver.

TV said the navy also used another anti-ship missile, dubbed Noor, or Light, during the drill. It showed several missiles being fired and hitting their targets at sea. Reports on the maneuvers say Iran also used its electronic warfare systems.

Iran’s growing arsenal includes short- and medium-range ballistic missiles that are capable of hitting targets in the region such as Israel and US military bases in the Gulf.

The maneuvers covered nearly 1 million sq. kilometers (400,000 sq. miles) from the Strait of Hormuz to the northern part of the Indian Ocean, including the Sea of Oman.

Iran has threatened to close the strait over Western sanctions targeting its nuclear program, but has not repeated the threats lately. The strait is the passageway for one-fifth of the world’s oil supply.

On Wednesday, Sayyari said the drill wasn’t a threat to other countries in the region, but rather a defensive measure. 

“We announce that we are able to provide security in the region with the help of all neighboring countries,” he said.

Sayyari has said Iran aims to put warships in international waters off the US coast “within the next few years.” He also said Iran’s navy would be “present anywhere in international waters in order to safeguard the Islamic Republic’s interests,” including near the South Pole.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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