Khamenei Calls for Navy Expansion despite Regional Concerns

By Ahmad Majidyar | Fellow and Director of IranObserved Project - The Middle East Institute | Nov 28, 2017
Khamenei Calls for Navy Expansion despite Regional Concerns

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei today called on the country’s military leaders to expand the country’s naval capabilities, the Iranian media reported. In a meeting with senior Navy commanders in Tehran, Khamenei said the Navy should boost its assets and capabilities both in terms of military gear and combat power. He praised the latest progress of the Navy but stressed that Navy officials should accelerate the development of its assets. The Supreme Leader particularly emphasized the need to expand the Navy’s operations in “critical regions” such as the coast of Makran, the Sea of Oman, and urged the Navy to maintain presence in international waters. 

Separately, the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces said close synergy between the naval forces of Artesh [Iran’s regular army] and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) is essential to thwarting the plots of “arrogant powers and adventurists” in the Persian Gulf region. Major General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri further claimed “outsiders” have become passive due to developing Iranian naval might in the region.

Moreover, in an interview with the state TV on Monday, the new commander of the Iranian Navy claimed Israel is deeply afraid of the Iranian Navy.  “We don’t view the Zionist regime's navy as a notable naval power and believe that it is not capable of confronting us," Rear Admiral Khanzadi said. He further claimed that when the Iranian warships were passing through Bab al-Mandab Strait and the Suez Canal, the Israelis feared more than any other regional country.

Comment: Iran has put increased emphasis on developing its naval capabilities in recent years. Sanctions relief from the lifting of nuclear-related international sanctions in January 2016 may also have helped Tehran to invest more on its Navy, including on warships and submarines. The Iranian Navy announced in April that it was manufacturing a missile-launching warship called Separ and a submarine named Fateh.

A report by the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence warned in March that Iran would be able to purchase warships, submarines and advanced missiles to further boost its naval power after 2020, when the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 prohibiting Iran from acquiring advanced offensive weaponry is set to expire. “Over the next five years, new weapons will likely include submarine-launched ASCMs, the Hoot supercavitating torpedo, and potentially a supersonic ASCM, which Iran claims is in development. After 2020, Iran may look to foreign acquisitions of ships and submarines with a wide array of weapons suites,” the 42-page study said. The U.S. Navy report suggests three key factors – the status of the Iran nuclear agreement, the price of oil and leadership changes in Tehran – will determine Iran’s naval strategy and acquisitions in the future.

In May, American defense officials claimed that a “midget” submarine from which Iran in May tried to launch a cruise missile was built on a North Korean design. The Iranian launch of Jask-2 missile, the first underwater missile launch by Iran to date, reportedly was unsuccessful. Pyongyang successfully launched a missile from a submarine for the first time two years ago. The ballistic missile Iran test fired in late January – which triggered a strong response from the Trump administration – was also said to have been based on a North Korean model. Last summer, Iran test-fired another missile similar to a North Korea’s most advanced missile called Musudan.

Moreover, Iran has made efforts t expand its naval presence in international waters.

The new head of Iran’s Navy said over the weekend that the country is planning on sending warships to America’s doorsteps, the Iranian media reported. “We will enter the Atlantic Ocean in the near future and will visit South American countries,” Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi said at the first press conference since Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appointed him the new commander of the Iranian Navy. “And we will fly the country’s flag in the Gulf of Mexico,” he added. He also claimed that the Iranian Navy will add new warships and submarines to its fleet in the next one year. Furthermore, the commander of the Iranian Navy announced plans to equip the country’s naval forces with new vessels and submarines within the next 12 months. Khanzadi also revealed that Iran has proposed to countries in the Indian Ocean to create a military alliance to safeguard regional waters without outsides’ assistance. He expressed the hope that the plan is approved at the summit of naval commanders of Indian Ocean countries to be held in Tehran next year.

The Iranian naval expansion efforts comes amid increasing concern raised by the United States and regional countries about Iran’s “irresponsible” naval activities in the Gulf region. The Saudi-led coalition says Iran sends weapons shipments to the Houthi rebel movements. And last November, the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, triggered alarm in the region after he said Iran sought to set up naval bases in Yemen and Syria.

U.S. naval officials also repeatedly complain about Iran’s hostile maritime actions that disrupt international navigation in the Persian Gulf. They have also warned that Iran’s provocative naval maneuvers increase the chance of miscalculation and unintended confrontation in the Gulf region.