The Iranian navy supply vessel Kharg and destroyer Shaid Qandi have docked in the Saudi port of Jeddah as Iran aims to display the country’s sea power and to ‘confront Iranophobia’.
The vessels docked in Saudi Arabia on Saturday in line with orders from the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to Iran’s Fars news agency.
“This mission aims to show the power of the Islamic Republic of Iran on the open seas and to confront Iranophobia,” Fars quoted navy commander Admiral Habibollah Sayari as saying.
The commander added that the mission would last between 70 and 80 days, but did not specify its route.
“According to international law, it is the Islamic Republic of Iran’s inalienable right to be present in the open seas and no country can take away this right,” Sayyari said in October.
Iran’s navy flexed its muscles last year by embarking on a number of significant deployments. In early June, the Iranian Navy Kilo class submarine Younus returned home after spending 68 days at sea with the 14th fleet sailing in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.
The Iranian Navy achieved a major milestone in February when the Kharg and frigate Alvand passed through the Suez Canal and docked in Syria on February 24. It marked the first time Iranian warships had travelled through the canal since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. The event caused great concern in Israel, which described the move as ‘political provocation’ and put its navy on alert.
In July the Iranian navy said it is planning to deploy warships into the Atlantic Ocean as part of a programme to sail international waters.
Iran’s navy has been conducting anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden since November 2008 to safeguard maritime trade and in particular ships and oil tankers owned or leased by Iran. Iranian naval ships have escorted around a thousand Iranian commercial ships and oil tankers in the Gulf of Aden and have had 30 major clashes with the pirates over the past two years.
However, the recent naval activity comes amid a steep deterioration of its relations with the West. Last month European Union leaders agreed to embargo Iranian oil by July and to freeze the assets of Iran’s central bank, joining the United States in a new round of measures aimed at discouraging Tehran’s nuclear development programme.
Iran has warned that it could cut off oil exports to Europe before July 1, and also threatened to close the vital Strait of Hormuz shipping lane, a move Washington said it would not tolerate.
Iran’s ties with Saudi Arabia are also not good, especially after the United States accused Tehran of masterminding a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington.
At the moment Iran’s navy is relatively small, as it has been designed for securing ports and coastal regions. The ocean going fleet comprises a half-dozen small frigates and destroyers from 1,500 to 2,000 tons, and three submarines of the 3,000 ton Kilo class, purchased from Russia in the 1990s. However, Iran is working on building indigenous ships, including frigates, and small submarines. It is also working on missile technology, notably in collaboration with China.