The 71st flotilla of the Iranian Navy set off for the southern waters on a mission to safeguard maritime routes used by Iranian vessels in international waters.
The flotilla - consisting of the Alborz destroyer and the Khark helicopter carrier - was dispatched to international waters, as the 70th fleet of warships of the Iranian Navy returned to the southern port city of Bandar Abbas on December 19 after carrying out their mission in the international waters of the Gulf of Aden and the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, according to Iran’s Mehr news agency.
“The monitoring and identification of foreign vessels in international waters, along with the protection of the interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran, is one of the important tasks of the fleets sent to the Gulf of Aden,” Second Admiral Jafar Tazakkor said at the welcoming ceremony of the 70th flotilla, which had already carried out missions in the international waters in Bandar Abbas.
He also described the security of Iran's interests as a "red line".
In recent years, Iran’s naval forces have increased their presence in international waters to secure naval routes and protect merchant vessels and oil tankers against pirates. The Iranian Navy has also been conducting anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden to safeguard the vessels involved in maritime trade, especially ships and oil tankers owned or leased by Iran.
The naval forces of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) typically patrol the shallower waters of the Persian Gulf, and its narrow mouth, the Strait of Hormuz and is mainly coastal-based. The conventional Islamic Republic of Iran Navy operates in the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea and the Caspian Sea.
Commander of US Naval Forces Central Command and US 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces based in Bahrain, Vice Admiral Samuel Paparo said on December 5 that America has reached an “uneasy deterrence” with Iran after months of regional attacks and seizures at sea.
Tensions remain high between Washington and Tehran over the Iranian nuclear program, the withdrawal of the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2018 and the numerous sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic.
The JCPOA — commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal — is an agreement on the Iranian nuclear program reached in Vienna on 14 July 2015, between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States — plus Germany) together with the European Union.
“We have achieved an uneasy deterrence. That uneasy deterrence is exacerbated by world events and by events along the way,” Paparo said while addressing the Manama Dialogue security conference in the Bahraini capital. “But I have found Iranian activity at sea to be cautious and circumspect and respectful, to not risk unnecessary miscalculation or escalation at sea.”
Asked about Paparo’s comments, Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations, said all of Iran’s naval forces “have always conducted themselves in the utmost professional manner while patrolling in our territorial waters and the greater Persian Gulf.”
This is not the first time the US Navy has tense encounters with the IRGC. The IRGC's speed boats routinely race alongside American warships in the Persian Gulf and sometimes conduct live-fire drills with machine guns and missile launches in their presence.
The US 5th Fleet has patrolled the Middle East as part of a mission to ensure energy supplies can pass through crucial regional choke points. Iranian officials have repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of the world's oil passes.