Iranian Navy Increases Its International Presence
Tuesday, July 20, 2021
Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Iranian naval incursions continue to increase. The Persian country, after consolidating its presence in the Caribbean, included Europe in its navy’s route. The French and British governments are concerned about the passage of Iranian ships on the English Channel and international tensions are likely to rise as Tehran is becoming a new naval power with intercontinental projections.
Two Iranian ships that were in the Atlantic recently, allegedly carrying arms to Venezuela, were seen in the English Channel between the UK and France. Iran’s destroyer Sahand and the support vessel Makran departed from the center of the Atlantic Ocean and crossed the English Channel last Sunday, according to data captured by intelligence satellites from France and the UK. The presence of the ships was first reported by the USNI News media agency, which believes that the vessels were crossing the Channel during a journey to Russia, where they will supposedly participate in a Russian naval parade in St. Petersburg on Sunday, July 25th. However, there is still no concrete data to affirm the real reason for the movement of ships.
The scale of the power of these ships is what generates fear in Western observers. The Sahand is a Moudge-class destroyer with a displacement of 2,500 tons, 95 meters long and has a crew of 140 officers and sailors, equipped with long-range radar, electronic warfare systems, naval weapons, cannons and machine guns, in addition to surface-to-air missiles, anti-submarine torpedoes, and a helicopter. Meanwhile, the Makran is a new type of warship, commissioned by the Iranian Navy in January 2021, built from a former oil tanker to serve as a mobile maritime base capable of long-range naval operations. The ship has a displacement of 111,000 tons, 230 meters in length, and can carry tens of thousands of tons of equipment such as speedboats, mobile road vehicles, drones, and helicopters, as well as a firepower that includes the naval missiles Qadir and Abu-Mahd and rocket launchers.
Regardless of Tehran’s intention, the very presence of ships with such firepower is reason enough for nations “visited” by the Iranian Navy to be surprised and alert. For this reason, NATO has started to monitor the situation closely and is following the movement of the vessels. Even if it is really just a passage towards the Baltic Sea and the Russian naval parade, tensions will not decrease, as Iran’s lack of prior warning will be perceived as an affront and will motivate responses – which can take place in the diplomatic, commercial or military arena (with possible NATO naval maneuvers).
However, in order to correctly analyze the presence of these ships in Europe, it is necessary to remember the Venezuelan issue, as the episodes provide us with information about Iran’s naval intentions. Sahand and Makran were the same ships that raised fears in Washington in May, when they began crossing the Atlantic, possibly carrying weapons for the Bolivarian government. Tehran has never revealed details about the operations of such ships, which further heightens suspicions in the West. However, in fact, there are many reasons why Iran has moved to that region. What started as economic assistance, sending humanitarian aid to Venezuela, quickly evolved into oil cooperation, with both countries breaking the US-imposed international blockade on them.
From economic-oil cooperation, there was an evolution to a military stage and Iran finally made its presence in the “geopolitical backyard” of its biggest international rival. At the time, commenting on the case, the commander of the Iranian Navy, Hossein Khanzadi, said: “[Iranian presence] is a response to the US claims that Iran would never be able to have a presence in the Atlantic.” This means that Tehran plans to increase its presence in regions that have historically been under the American military umbrella.
Iranian investments in naval advancement began in April of last year, when the Revolutionary Navy started a series of maneuvers against American ships in the Persian Gulf, challenging the American presence in the region. At the peak of the crisis generated by political instability and the pandemic, Washington was undetermined to respond to the actions of its rival, leading to the progress of the naval ambitions of the Persian country, which later began to transit the Caribbean.
What Iran is doing is simply increasing its naval projection, far beyond the limits of its coastline. This attitude is common among the world powers and Tehran has a plan to become a naval military power. For a long time, the Atlantic powers believed they were “owners” of this ocean, but the rise of new naval states shows that the principle of freedom of navigation is absolute and must be respected.
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