The Islamic Republic of Iran said Tuesday that it has the ability to position a naval vessel within three miles of the East Coast of the United States.
“The power of our naval forces is such that we have a presence in all the waters of the world and, if needed, we can move to within three miles of New York,” Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi said Tuesday during a speech to the students of the University of Yazd in Iran. His remarks were quoted by an Iranian student news agency.
This naval saber rattling represents a stark escalation in Iran’s war rhetoric, as the West weighs the question of whether to impose new economic sanctions or directly attack the Islamic regime’s illicit nuclear facilities.
“The Americans’ only tool to rule the world is their naval dominance of the Persian Gulf,” Fadavi added, “and they will face any other power that threatens their status.”
The admiral was speaking on the anniversary of a failed April 24, 1980 U.S. military operation — dubbed “Operation Eagle Claw” — that sought to rescue American hostages held captive at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
A Pentagon official responded to Fadavi’s claim on Friday. “You should ask the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps what their plans are,” the official told The Daily Caller. “We support freedom of the seas and encourage all countries to follow international laws.”
But on Friday, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, Iran’s top air force commander, told the Fars New Agency that the Islamic republic’s military is also capable of crippling or disabling U.S. aircraft carriers.
“First, sinking an aircraft carrier is not a complicated task,” Hajizadeh said. “Second, an aircraft carrier is equipped with so many advanced, delicate, and sensitive devices … that it could be incapacitated by even the smallest explosion.”
Although the U.S. military would likely intercept Iranian naval vessels before they could enter U.S. territorial waters, Iranian commercial vessels sailing under another country’s flag — if en route to Venezuela, for instance — could come close enough to the American shoreline to strike the U.S. Iran already possesses the capability to launch ballistic missiles from a ship.
Concerns about Iran’s nuclear-weapons ambitions make the threat of a naval incursion into U.S. waters a more pressing issue. Texas Republican Rep. Michael Conaway is promoting the Credible Military Option to Counter Iran Act, H.R. 4485, as one measure to prevent Iran from building a nuclear bomb.
The bill formalizes an understood U.S. policy “to take all necessary measures, including military action if required, to prevent Iran from threatening the United States, its allies, or Iran’s neighbors with a nuclear weapon.” It also allocates more than $594 million to enhance American firepower in the Persian Gulf region in fiscal 2012 and 2013.
“Preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is among the most urgent national security challenges facing the United States,” Conaway wrote Wednesday in a “dear colleague” letter to other members of Congress. His legislation is needed, he said, “to prevent the increasingly dangerous situation in Iran from spiraling out of control.”
“My bill demonstrates to a defiant Iranian regime that the United States is prepared to take military action should they not halt their nuclear program,” Conaway told TheDC on Friday. “We must have a credible military option on the table to advance any real negotiations.”
Iranian Revolutionary Guards naval commanders said in July 2011 that they would expand their mission into the Atlantic Ocean, and that the country had equipped a number of its vessels with long-range ballistic missiles.
In September, Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said Iran planned to deploy naval vessels in the Atlantic Ocean. “The Navy has a strong presence in the Caspian Sea, Persian Gulf, Sea of Oman, Indian Ocean and international waters and soon it will be present in the Atlantic Ocean,” Vahidi said.
On that same day, Rear Adm. Fadavi dismissed the idea of setting up a military hotline between U.S. and Iran. Media reports had quoted an unidentified U.S. defense official floating the idea after a series of close encounters between the countries’ forces in the Persian Gulf.
“When we go to the Gulf of Mexico,” Fadavi said, “we will establish direct communication with them.”
Reza Kahlili is a pseudonym for a former CIA operative in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and the author of the award winning book ”A Time to Betray.” He teaches at the U.S. Department of Defense’s Joint Counterintelligence Training Academy (JCITA) and is a member of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security.