Iran's state-run Islamic Republic News Agency carried some scary words today from the head of the country's Navy: "Like the arrogant powers that are present near our marine borders, we will also have a powerful presence close to American marine borders," Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari declared in reference to America's naval presence in the Persian Gulf. If Iran follows through with its threat to deploy military ships near the United States' Atlantic coast, Reuters notes, it would represent a "major escalation of tensions between the long-standing adversaries."
The prospect of Iranian warships arrayed off the Atlantic coast is a frightening one, but there's reason to believe Iran is primarily engaging in less menacing political saber rattling. Sayyari, for starters, was quoted by Iran's Fars News Agency back in July as saying that he just needed "final ratification" to send warships with cruise missiles to the Atlantic Ocean, but the fleet hasn't yet materialized and the Navy chief offered no additional details on the deployment today. Analysts recently told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that Iran's Navy is not large and modern enough to have a robust international presence, and that the country is mainly flexing its military muscle to project itself as a major power as U.S. influence in the region wanes. Iranian officials "are trying to say, 'We are extremely capable. You'd better watch out. The Iranian Navy is coming to your neighborhood,'" Michael Connell of the Center for Naval Analyses tells RFE/RL. "But a lot of it is bluster." The bigger concern appears to be an outbreak of fighting between Iran and the U.S. in the Persian Gulf, sparked by a U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities or perhaps even a mere misunderstanding. (Robert Kaplan imagined what a naval war between the two countries might look like back in 2008). There's currently talk of establishing an emergency contact system--or "hotline"--between the U.S. and Iran to prevent that nightmare scenario from happening.