Iran Takes on the U.S.: Is this Provocation, Defiance, or Tomfoolery?

Source: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / Flickr

Responding to the U.S. naval presence in the Gulf, described by the Islamic Republic of Iran as “arrogant,” Iranian leaders have decided to dispatch a naval task force of their own to sail within proximity of U.S. territorial waters. This move is difficult to judge whether it is an act of provocation, an act of defiance, or an act of foolishness.

And if one wanted to be really Machiavellian, is this a smart maneuver intended to push the tension up a notch or two and with it, the price of oil by a few dollars per barrel?

What do you do if you’re an oil-producing country and strapped for cash and want to hike the price up a little bit to earn more money? Raise the political tension.

Provocation

The dispatching of three, possibly four or five, ancient warships to cruise off the Atlantic coast of the continental U.S. could be perceived by some members of Congress as something akin to an act of war and to authorize the U.S. Navy to respond with force if need be.

A great many Americans would support that notion, and maybe the American public will finally see a decisive act by the Obama administration when it comes to a matter relating to foreign policy. Then again, enemy warships on one’s very doorstep are not exactly foreign policy, but more a matter of national security.

A far smarter policy, however, would be to invite those ships into U.S. ports and allow the sailors shore leave so they could get a firsthand look at the “Great Satan” and discover that the “Shaitan Bazorg” is neither Satan nor all that great in terms of being an “evil” power. What the Iranian sailors may learn — assuming that first, U.S. authorities allow them in and second, that their own leaders allow them off the ships — is that ordinary Americans are no different than other common folks around the world.

The alternative is for the U.S. to blow them out of the water, certainly an option that remains on the table. That, however, is not a good idea. The destruction of the Iranian fleet would give the Islamic Republic reason to retaliate against interests and forces in the Middle East. Such a move would create tension and raise the price of oil unnecessarily.

Defiance

Iran’s navy is a mouse in front of the American elephant. Ignoring the sheer numbers that speak volumes, Iran has 545,000 men in uniform, while the U.S. has 1,477,000 — nearly three times as many. And when it comes to hardware, there is no comparison. Iran’s entire armada consists of outdated warships with antiquated weapons systems that are falling apart at the seams.

Iran has nine frigates, and the U.S. 24; Iran has three destroyers, and the U.S. 61. Iran has 29 submarines, and the U.S. 71.

The U.S. has 10 aircraft carriers, each with enough firepower to destroy entire countries. Iran has none.

Iran has three major ports, all on the Gulf, which could be blocked if the Strait of Hormuz is blocked. If that were to ever happen, whatever ships are outside the Gulf would be blocked out. The U.S. has 21 major ports.

Tomfoolery

Again, the question needs to be asked: Is this intended to distract the international community while something else is going down? Or is there some other ulterior motive, such as raising the price of oil to fill the state coffers? Or is it because Iran (and other countries) just want to be treated as equals?

Claude Salhani is a journalist and political analyst. He is the senior editor of the Trend News Agency in Baku, Azerbaijan. He specializes in the greater Middle East. You can follow him on Twitter at @claudesalhani.

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