“Iran’s military fleet is approaching the United States’ maritime borders, and this move has a message,” said Haddad — the commander of the Iranian navy's northern fleet — adding that the Iranian ships were approaching the Atlantic Ocean “via the waters near South Africa.”
The “message” Iran wishes to send, according to Fars, is that if the United States can increase its naval presence in the Persian Gulf, then Iran will stage a presence near the United States. The decision to send ships near the United States is “Iran’s response to Washington’s beefed up naval presence in the Persian Gulf.”
The U.S. Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain, a tiny island nation on the western edge of the Gulf, off Saudi Arabia. The fleet regularly engages in naval exercises in the Gulf with its allies, with the stated intention of protecting freedom of navigation in the waterway through which 40 percent of the world’s oil shipments pass.
A U.S. military official told CNN that our military had no operational information to verify Iran’s statement.
“They do send some ships from time to time to the Gulf of Aden [between Yemen, in the Arabian Peninsula, and Somalia, in the Horn of Africa] for unilateral counter piracy operations. In theory, a couple of ships could go there and then off south down towards the cape [of Good Hope],” CNN quoted the official, who also said it is the first time Iran has threatened to send its ships near U.S. maritime borders.
“It’s important to understand that, at this point, we have an announcement not a deployment. They’ve stated this aspiration before,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Reuters also quoted an anonymous U.S. defense official (though it is not known if it is the same official quoted by CNN) who said about the Iranian announcement that “ships are free to operate in international waters.”
By international law, nations generally consider waters up to 12 nautical miles from their shores as territorial waters. Nations also exercise limited control over a contiguous zone extending from the outer edge of the territorial sea up to 24 nautical miles from the shoreline, within which a state can exert limited control for the purpose of preventing or punishing “infringement of its customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws and regulations within its territory or territorial sea.”
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Photo of Iranian Jamaran-class destroyer