Iran’s Maritime Mirage

Iran’s Maritime Mirage
AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File

Iran is doing enough damage in the Middle East through unconventional methods without requiring a robust navy. That is why an idea floated by a key Iranian military leader to build naval bases in Yemen and Syria makes absolutely no sense.

Mohammad Bagheri, the chief of Iran's armed forces general staff, suggested last month that Tehran was interested in, “at some point,” establishing naval bases in Yemen and Syria. While such a move would reflect the Islamic Republic's goal of dominating the region, constructing highly visible and defensible bases far from Iranian shores is not realistic.

Indeed, it is more in line with the typical hyperbole often voiced by Tehran's military elite. More importantly, such a move seems unnecessary given Iran's relative success at power projection in the region using unconventional means, such as arms proliferation and funding proxies.

Conventional force projection and foreign basing are currently not among Iran's strengths. Since 1979, Iran has sent warships to the Mediterranean only on two occasions, in 2011 and 2012, to pay brief visits to Syrian ports as a show of force after the eruption of the Syrian civil war. More recently, Tehran sent a naval flotilla to the Gulf of Aden consisting of a frigate and support vessel, both of which never reached Yemeni shores nor challenged the existing blockade by Saudi and coalition forces. These limited deployments, coupled with repeated but unfulfilled claims that Tehran will dispatch warships to the Atlantic, belie the fact that the capabilities of Iran's blue water navy are lagging.  They are no competition to the U.S., NATO and Israeli maritime capabilities in the region.

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