Iran Sends Navy into Atlantic Ocean to Threaten US, But War With Iran Not Likely

There has not been much in the way of bombast emanating from Tehran lately. This quasi (and largely welcome) silence was broken on Wednesday when a top Iranian naval commander announced the country’s intention to deploy a  maritime presence in the Atlantic Ocean.

Iranian Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said that: “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.”

At this point, I imagine a fair few readers recoiling in fear from their computer terminals, and rushing to buy canned goods in anticipation for Cuban Missile Crisis 2.0.

Yet, there is little to fear from this recent announcement. It will certainly only be one or two ships of the Iranian navy taking part, mostly guarding a new Iranian oil tanker carrying 750,000 gallons of oil to Venezuela. They might also stop in Cuba – an Iranian ally – but this is not certain. What is certain is that these ships will not be a threat to the U.S. or any other Western nation bordering the Atlantic.

Firstly, such a small fleet is never going to be equipped with any nuclear weaponry. Strategically this would be nonsensical for Iran. Why, after all – if such weaponry is in their possession – would they locate it in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, greatly exposed and utterly useless? Consequently, the U.S. can rest easier.

Equally, the fleet (if it can be called this) is hardly likely to be able to range far from friendly ports, namely in Venezuela and Cuba; and they will likely be heavily monitored by Western military intelligence. So no one will wake up and find an Iranian destroyer casually parked by the Statue of Liberty.

In actual fact this statement is likely to be another way for Iran to put pressure in a cost-free fashion on the U.S. and maintain its own media image of a rogue state. This is the same strategy adopted with much effect when Iran sent a naval vessel through the Suez canal to Syria in 2011, ensuring much coverage in the world media. But this remained a gesture, with very little strategic consequence.

It is also worth remembering, that such a fleet they were to be openly hostile in the Atlantic, it would be guaranteed a very strong response from the U.S. and its Atlantic partners. This would not bode well for the duo of Iranian boats.

So, the Iranian fleet will go into the Atlantic, steam into Venezuela and Cuba, seek to antagonise the great U.S. public and government with their mere presence, and then return to Iran. This is the overwhelmingly likely scenario.

In the end, such announcements by Iran are just short-term stunts. The real issue remains the crowded waters of the Persian Gulf, and the Iranian naval presence in that area of the world. This is the flashpoint, the one to be closely monitored, not the Iranian regime’s Atlantic stunt tactics. 

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Will Birch

Specialising in Maghreb affairs, William has lived and traveled throughout the MENA region.

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