Last September, Iran's top naval commander warned in a speech that his country planned to send military ships near U.S. sea borders. "Like the arrogant powers that are present near our marine borders," Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari said, "we will also have a powerful presence close to the American marine borders." Apparently worried that the message didn't make the desired impression the first time, Iran's top naval commander announced again Tuesday that Iranian warships soon would cruise the Atlantic.
The White House said it didn't take the statements seriously, especially considering that the Iranian navy has been able to enter the Mediterranean exactly twice in recent history: In a two-ship visit to Egypt shortly after the fall of that country's president, Hosni Mubarak, in February 2011 and in a two-ship visit last February to Iran's beleaguered ally, Syria.
This hardly constitutes global naval reach.
Iran's first foray into the Atlantic may be to send a warship and a supply vessel to accompany Syria's first domestically built tanker, a 21,000-ton vessel it is selling to Venezuela. Not to disparage Iran's accomplishment, but 21,000 tons is almost a lifeboat compared to the monster tankers that are the backbone of international crude-oil shipping. Typically, these are ultra-large crude carriers -- ULCCs -- that run around 550,000 deadweight tons. Some even weigh more than 600,000 tons.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is calling for even closer ties between "justice-seeking nations like Iran and Venezuela." This recalls the 2008 joint naval "maneuvers" between Russia and Venezuela that one Russian news outlet, in a burst of irrational exuberance, called a "fist in America's belly." The Russians sent several ships: the guided-missile cruiser Peter the Great, an anti-submarine destroyer, a supply ship and a tugboat. The presence of the oceangoing tug, sent along in case one of the other ships broke down, rather diluted the effect.
Putting its ships in the Atlantic is clearly a matter of pride to Iran and its navy. We would only caution: Watch out for hurricane season.
Dale McFeatters is a senior writer for the Scripps Howard News Service.