Iran is, once again, hoping to draw the United States into conflict.
In a very bold move two Iranian naval ships have rounded the Cape of Good Hope and are entering the Atlantic Ocean.
In other words, Iran is entering into the United States’ backyard, Iran is infringing on the United States’ sphere of influence.
The Iranians are pushing the envelope.
Their destination is almost certainly Venezuela.
Not long ago Iran tested the waters.
They sent four oil tankers along the very same route.
The tankers were stopped by the United States. And they were officially confiscated for violating U.N. sanctions preventing Iran from exporting oil.
However, two military ships in international waters is a different story.
Military ships as opposed to oil tankers is Iran’s way of upping the game.
There is not much the United States can do in response to these ships other than to exert diplomatic pressure on Iran. They can do that, face-to-face, during the Nuke Deal meetings they have been having with Iran in Vienna. They have already met for five rounds of discussion and are about to begin a sixth set of sessions.
Iran has sent military vessels in this direction in the past.
However, they have always turned back.
These vessels have travelled farther along the route than any of the others.
This time Iran has a point to prove.
Iran’s largest naval ship, the Khrag, the pride of the Iranian navy, inexplicably sank earlier in the week. A fire broke out and the ship went down.
Everyone on board the vessel was evacuated. The Khrag sank while in the Gulf of Oman, just at the entrance of the Strait of Hormuz.
At the very same time a suspicious chemical fire broke out at an oil refinery at the state-owned Tondgooyan Petrochemical Company just south of Tehran.
Iran needs to try to save face. They need to prove that despite these two very large losses, they are a power to contend with. And so, Iranian leadership chose to continue to send these two vessels to the Atlantic Ocean with the specific intent of goading their nemesis, the United States of America.
The two ships can be seen on satellite imagery. They are the Sahand and the Makran. The Sahand is Iran’s brand new frigate. The Makran is a massive tanker that has been re-purposed as a forward floating staging base.
The ship just came out of repairs after its control room was hit last month – presumably by Israel – and it was towed to dock. It is the ship that is almost always in place wherever and whenever Iran is involved in conflict or stirring the proverbial pot.
These Iranian ships are travelling at 8-10 knots per hour. At that speed, they will arrive in Venezuela approximately on June 14th.
Sending the naval vessels to Venezuela is not an arbitrary choice for Iran.
The Iranians both want to and need to support Venezuela. Venezuela is one of the few countries in the world that unequivocally backs Iran. Iran and Venezuela are united in their disdain for the United States.
Venezuela, once one of the great oil producers of the world and a member of OPEC, is in an oil crisis. Their drilling and mechanical infrastructure is antiquated and dilapidated. They need oil but they can no longer refine oil.
Iran is coming to their rescue. But the United States cannot permit this to happen.
An alliance between Iran and Venezuela will alter the balance of power in the region. It will give Iran a foothold in the Atlantic. And that is exactly what Venezuela needs and what Iran desperately wants.
The Makran is a ship that can organize and coordinate an entire army — air, land and sea. It is not going half way around the world simply for a cruise. Taking the ship out of position off the coast of Yemen where it was stationed, barely moving for a year, means Iran has a plan.
My best analysis is that Iran is attempting to force the hand of the United States. If the United States uses military intervention to turn the Iranian ships around they will be provoking an international incident.
If the United Stated does nothing and allows the ships to pass they will be gifting Iran with the opportunity to help Venezuela by doing a little military style show-and-tell. Iran will demonstrate for the Venezuelans how useful a vessel the Makran can be in operations against an enemy.
The United States needs to have those vessels turn around and head back home. But to do that without causing an international incident they will need to offer Iran something big. The Iranians are master manipulators.
And the Nuke Deal is looming big on their minds.
Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. Read Micah Halpern's Reports — More Here.
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