(CNSNews.com) – For the second time in less than a year, Iran’s top naval commander has said Iranian Navy vessels will soon be plying the Atlantic Ocean, having made great strides in recent years in expanding its presence beyond Iranian waters.
Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari’s comments came on the same day Iran launched its first domestically-built oil tanker. The 21,000-ton vessel, capable of carrying up to 750,000 barrels of oil, was ordered by Venezuela, and Sayyari’s remarks raise the possibility that a warship may escort the tanker on its delivery sailing to Iran’s Latin American ally.
Iran has also established close ties with Cuba, another potential destination for an Iranian Navy Atlantic voyage.
“The navy has carried out successful activities in open seas, and in the near future we will witness the presence of the navy in the Atlantic Ocean,” the Mehr news agency quoted Sayyari as saying.
“The powerful presence of Iranian Navy in the high seas has proven the Islamic Republic’s might,” he said.
Sayyari pointed to the navy’s expanding capabilities over the past decade. Once limited to the Persian Gulf, Iranian warships have been carrying out anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden-Horn of Africa region since late 2008.
In February 2011 it sent a frigate and replenishment ship through Egypt’s Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea, the first such passage since the 1979 revolution. That voyage came shortly after the fall of the Mubarak regime ushered in the prospect of a thawing of long-hostile Iran-Egypt ties.
Last February, an Iranian destroyer and navy supply vessel again traversed the canal, entered the Mediterranean and docked at the Syrian port of Tartus, rattling Israel.
“Today we witness that the army’s naval force is deployed in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea instead of the Persian Gulf, and god willing, we will go beyond the Mediterranean in future,” said Sayyari.
Last fall, the navy commander first announced plans to send warships to the Atlantic, saying, “Like the arrogant powers that are present near our marine borders, we will also have a powerful presence close to the American marine borders.”
U.S. officials at the time dismissed the comments as bombastic rhetoric.
“We don’t take these statements seriously, given that they do not reflect at all Iran’s naval capabilities,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney.
“Given the limited size and capability of the Iranian navy, they would be far better off focusing on the challenges closer to home, including reducing the potential for naval incidents in the Gulf and playing a constructive role in freedom of navigation and maritime issues at home,” commented State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has paid two visits to Venezuela this year, strengthening ties with its U.S.-baiting president, Hugo Chavez, as well as other leftist allies including the leaders of Cuba, Bolivia and Ecuador.
On his most recent visit, last month, he hailed Chavez’ support in the face of U.S. hostility and declared that “justice-seeking nations like Iran and Venezuela will definitely build their countries and make progress outside the dominance of imperialism.”
Chavez in turn reiterated his call for a consolidation of ties with Iran in all areas.
Last May House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) wrote to President Obama, asking about administration actions to counter the threat of Iranian activity in the Western Hemisphere.
The prospect of Iranian warships sailing in Atlantic waters recalls Russia’s deployment in 2008 of navy ships led by its Northern Fleet flagship, the nuclear-powered missile cruiser Pyotr Velikiy, in what was believed to be the first such voyage to the Western Hemisphere since the end of the Cold War.
During the deployment – described by Russian media as a “fist in America’s belly” – the ships held joint maneuvers with Venezuelan Navy vessels in the Caribbean.