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Source: Al Jazeera

May 21, 2023

Iran says it is strong enough to defend regional waters

Tehran says the longest trip in its navy history is an indication that it is successfully circumventing US sanctions.

By Maziar Motamedi

Iran has said it is fully capable of securing regional waters in cooperation with other regional actors after a move by Western allies in the strategic Strait of Hormuz that Tehran called “theatrical”.

The comment came on Sunday as Iranian officials held a ceremony near the country’s southern waters to welcome back two Iranian warships after an eight-month trip around the world.

Two days earlier, the Middle East-based navy commanders of France, the United Kingdom and the United States toured the Strait of Hormuz on the USS Paul Hamilton in a show of unity against Iran and to indicate oversight of the safety of ships traversing the waterway, through which a fifth of global oil supplies pass.

Mohammad Bagheri, chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, said Western countries need to explain what they are doing in the Strait of Hormuz, thousands of kilometres away from their territorial waters.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran and the countries south of the Persian Gulf are capable of cooperating to ensure the security of the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the Sea of Oman,” Bagheri said in a news conference, adding that he discussed the issue during a trip to Oman earlier this month.

“We have no need for foreigners to ensure the security of regional waters, which are currently secured by our navy men of the army and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” he said.

Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, who oversees the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, said during the trip around Hormuz that Iran has seized eight ships and attacked seven more during the past two years. IRGC fast boats reportedly watched the Paul Hamilton from a distance of less than 1km (0.5 nautical miles).

Iran has seized two oil tankers in regional waters in the past month, saying one was stopped in compliance with a judicial order while another was “fleeing” the region after hitting an Iranian vessel when it was diverted towards an Iranian port.

The US has called the seizures “unlawful” as tensions between the two countries have remained high amid stalled efforts to restore Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

360 roundtrip

Iranian commanders and the foreign ministry spokesman were on hand on Sunday to congratulate the two Iranian warships on their return after a lengthy round trip that took them to many countries.

The frigate IRIS Dena, which carries anti-ship missiles and torpedoes, and IRIS Makran, a former oil tanker before being converted into Iran’s first and only forward base ship, embarked on their trip from Iran’s southern shores at the start of October.

They docked in India for three days starting October 12 and were accommodated by Indonesian officials for several days at a port in Jakarta from November 5.

After navigating the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean and moving along Chile and Argentina, they headed towards Rio de Janeiro in a non-stop sail that took them to South American shores for the very first time.

The government of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in late February allowed the Iranian warships to dock for a week despite pressure from the US to bar them.

By late March, the ships were docked for five days in Cape Town, holding meetings with South African peers. They then headed towards Oman, where they stayed for several days earlier this month.

The warships capped what the military called a 232-day “360 roundtrip” earlier this week, arriving back on Iranian shores after completing the longest naval journey in the history of the Iranian army, circumnavigating some 65,000km (35,100 nautical miles).

In 2021, the Makran accompanied the frigate Sahand for a trip that took them through the Baltic Sea, ending up in Saint Petersburg, where they participated in a joint military exercise with Russian warships.

During the welcoming ceremony on Sunday, armed forces chief Bagheri said more frigates like the IRIS Dena were under construction.

Foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani told state television that the completion of the trip is an indication that Tehran is successfully defying and circumventing Washington’s harsh sanctions.

“At the height of cruel sanctions, the Islamic Republic of Iran has turned into a prominent naval power, and is capable of conducting large-scale naval operations at the level of first-grade powers,” he said.

Earlier this week, IRGC Navy chief Alireza Tangsiri had claimed the force’s vessels were “capable of travelling to 12 miles [19km] from American shores”.

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