An Iranian Navy commander says his country is set to conduct naval exercises with nearby ally Oman in March. Iran looks to be on its way to major naval power status, fighting piracy and cooperating with other countries in the region.
Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said the exercises will involve joint rescue and relief operations. He expressed his country’s readiness to cooperate militarily with other countries in the region in an effort to ensure the peace and stability of the Middle East.
Iran and Oman occupy opposite shores of the Strait of Hormuz. They have already conducted two drills together, in 2009 and 2011. Last year’s included four vessels, two fighter jets and one maritime helicopter under Omani command, with four Iranian naval ships.
With Iran’s decision to cut off oil supplies to France and the United Kingdom in response to the EU’s decision to ban Iranian oil imports, the country is on the lookout for new customers for its energy sector. Iran’s First Vice President Mohammez Reza Rahimi recently visited Oman to discuss the gas trade, and back in 2009 the countries agreed to jointly develop a 200-kilometer underwater gas pipeline. In September 2011, the National Iranian Gas Export Company said Iran had reached an agreement to export gas to Oman and India.
Over the past few years, Iran’s presence in international waters has been on the rise, with vessels visiting locations as far off as the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.
On Saturday the Iranian destroyer Shahid Naqdi and supply vessel Khark sailed through the Mediterranean, docking at the Syrian port of Tartus. Sayyari noted that the mission was intended to show Iran’s “might” and bring a message of “peace and friendship” to the region. The ships are set to take part in a joint training exercise with the Syrian navy.
Sayyadi’s statement prompted Israel to put its navy on alert. Tensions between the countries have been surging in the past months, with the Israeli leadership, wary of Iran’s nuclear program, reportedly considering an attack on the Islamic Republic. Last week, Israel accused Iran of being behind bombings in Tbilisi, New Delhi and Bangkok that targeted Israeli nationals. The Iranian issue is to be a main topic of discussion for US National Security advisor Tom Donilon during his visit to Israel.
But Iran’s navy has also been put to other purposes. In an effort to safeguard trade vessels and oil tankers, it has been conducting anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden, between Yemen and Somalia, since November 2008.