Iran Extends Operations

Iran’s Navy Commander, Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, has once again addressed Tehran’s intention of extending its Navy’s operational area. Speaking with journalists he stressed that Iran harboured no hostile intentions towards other states and that Naval operations would be of a collaborative nature.

Following the recent visit to the Mediterranean of the Iranian ships Khark and Alvand Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari had announced that his force intended expanding its maritime operational area during the new Iranian calendar year which begins on March 21.

At the time Sayyari stated that “The operational area of the Navy will expand in 1390, and we will bring other areas under control through deploying the Navy’s warships outside the Persian Gulf.

The Navy Commander explained that the objective was that of countering the menace to oil tankers and trade vessels by Somali pirates, pointing out that the Iranian Navy had already dispatched a number of military warships to the Gulf of Aden area with the aim of protecting both Iranian and foreign vessels transiting the sea lanes.

The Navy Commander had earlier pointed out that the Iranian ships Khark and Alvand would continue their mission in the Red Sea. As regards their time in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea he stated that the mission served the purpose of consolidating ties with regional countries. Further objectives include providing security for shipping lines in the Gulf of Aden and training naval students.

Tehran is concerned by the fact that pirates operating off the coast of Somalia have expanded their capacity to hijack or attack merchant vessels and oil tankers in the Indian Ocean. The Iranian Navy hopes to counter the trend where, over the last two years in particular, pirates have made tens of millions of dollars in ransoms despite the fact that dozens of foreign naval vessels are patrolling the area.

Some western observers remain sceptical as to Iran’s true objectives. As specifically regards Tehran’s interest in participating in counter-piracy operations one western diplomat recently stated that “Iran feels this policing activity gives it credibility. But as long as it is perceived to be developing nuclear weapons, it will not succeed.

Of late Sayyari has been at pains to explain that Iran has no hostile intentions towards other states. During the visit of the Iranian ships to the Syrian seaport of Lattaqia he was adamant that the visit was part of the normal cooperation between Tehran and Damascus. At the time he explained that “Iran’s naval ships have a peace and friendship message, and aim at enhancing naval training cooperation between the two countries,” adding in regards to concern over the presence of the Iranian ships that “these concerns are not justified as the voyage poses no threats to the region.

The visit to Syria angered Israeli officials in particular and was a cause of concern to the United states and several other countries. The two vessels entered the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal, the first time Iranian Navy ships had crossed the canal since 1979. Although Tel Aviv regarded the voyage as a provocation an international convention regulating shipping states that the canal must be open to every vessel of commerce or of war – a fact that Sayyari has repeated on several occasions. Responding to Israel’s concerns, the Navy Commander has stressed that “the vessels were on a routine voyage and did not participate in any military exercise.

Photograph from the official Iran Armed Forces website: http://aja.ir

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Mark Lowe, Wednesday 16 March 2011

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