Iran's first domestically made destroyer Jamaran sails in the Gulf in 2009. The commander of Iran's Northern Navy Fleet said Iran sent 'a fleet' to approach U.S. maritime borders for the first time. Officials say the ships pose little danger to the U.S. (Getty Images)
Iranian warships headed to the U.S. coast pose little danger to the USA, but could be a dry run for the future, according to former U.S. officials.
The ships pose almost no danger because “they have no capability whatsoever,” said Gary Samore, a former adviser to President Obama on arms control, prevention of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.
The commander of Iran’s Northern Navy Fleet, Adm. Afshin Rezayee Haddad, said Iran sent “a fleet” to the Atlantic Ocean, to approach U.S. maritime borders for the first time, according to the Associated Press, which cited Iran’s official IRNA news agency Saturday.
The news comes as the U.S. and other world powers prepare to meet Feb. 18 with Iranian diplomats in Vienna to seek a comprehensive agreement about Iran’s disputed nuclear program. Iran seeks an agreement that would eliminate economic sanctions over its nuclear program that have crippled its economy. The U.S. seek to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Iran says its nuclear program has peaceful aims.
The Iranian naval mission shows the danger Iran would pose if it possessed nuclear weapons, says John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush and an arms negotiator during the Cold War.
“It shows they could put a weapon on a boat or freighter, and if (Iran) has ballistic missiles it could put it anywhere on the U.S. coast,” Bolton said. “Down the road it could be a threat.”
The vessels had begun sailing to the Atlantic Ocean by waters near South Africa, Iran’s Fars News Agency reported.
Iranian officials last month said the fleet would embark on a three-month mission and consist of a destroyer and a logistic helicopter carrier.
The plan is part of Iran’s response to Washington’s beefed up naval presence in the Persian Gulf, according to Fars. The U.S. Navy’s 5th fleet is based in Bahrain — across the Persian Gulf from Iran — and the U.S. has conducted two major naval war games in the last two years.
Samore, now executive director for research at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, said Iran has consistently objected to the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf.
“Their position is there should be no military bases or forces in the Gulf controlled by countries (that are) not Gulf countries,” Samore said. “They say this because if there were no outside powers, Iran would be the strongest power in the region. So it’s in their interest to demand there be no external force in the Gulf.”
Iran’s military doctrine is based on asymmetric warfare, relying on a multilayered strategy the employs many kinds of low-tech weapons and a willingness to accept casualties, says Michael Connell, director of Iranian Studies at the Center for Naval Analyses, which conducts research and analysis for the U.S. government.
In the Persian Gulf, Iran hopes to employ dozens of midget submarines, land-based missile launchers and speedboats, in a strategy meant to confuse and overwhelm an adversary with superior technology and firepower, Connell wrote in an assessment of Iran’s naval doctrine.
Bolton said Iran’s ships may not pose much of a threat now, but their mission shows the Islamic Republic is building up its capabilities for the future.
“They are showing they can sail from Iran across the Atlantic Ocean and travel right up to our coast,” Bolton said.
Iran wants ship captains who’ve sailed the Suez Canal and sailed the North Atlantic in the middle of winter, to show their potential reach is far from Iran, he said.
“They’re building up capabilities. That’s what training missions do.”