Iran Warships at U.S. Maritime Border: Threat or Theater?

Richard Moxley /

Iran’s recent announcement that it is sending a “military fleet” to the United States’ maritime borders was accompanied by a threat from Iran’s senior naval commander that Iran would “sink America’s Fifth Fleet” if provoked.

This “fleet,” consisting of two ships, was to depart for the U.S. coastline on February 8. While much is being made by Iran of this “historic deployment,” the reality is much different. As noted by reporter/blogger David Axe:

[The] Sabalan is a British-built Vosper Mk. V frigate launched in 1969, making her 45 years old today. Displacing just 1,500 tons—around 15 percent the weight of the U.S. Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyers…. Kharg, is no more impressive. Built by the British in 1977 and displacing 33,000 tons, Kharg is by far Iran’s biggest warship and its only large tanker. Armed with guns, she can support three helicopters, making her the closest thin[g] Iran has to an aircraft carrier.

A fleet fit for intimidating Caribbean fishing vessels, but not one that should cause concern for our national security.

Iran has a lengthy history of barking loudly to mask its lack of bite, and the sending of two vessels to the U.S. maritime border is just another silly example. The toothless nature of Iran’s naval capabilities provides some insight into the hollowness of Iran’s rhetoric when it comes to projecting conventional military power outside its region.

Does Iran pose a real threat to the national security interests of the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East? Yes, of course it does—through its support to terrorists worldwide, unending threats to the security of Israel, meddling in the war in Syria, and rejection of international efforts to curb its drive toward a nuclear weapons capability. America should exercise due diligence in differentiating between military bluster and serious dangers to which America should commit its attention, resources, and actions where it matters.

Iran’s naval deployment does boldly reveal an increasingly worrisome trend: Iran is enjoying thumbing its nose at the world—and the U.S. in particular.

The U.S. has no reason to worry about a couple of worn-out Iranian vessels sailing near the U.S. coastline, but America should most definitely be concerned with Iran’s persistent efforts to undermine the stability of its own neighborhood, threaten our allies in the region and around the world, and realize its aspirations to become a nuclear power.

When America projects weakness, our competitors move to fill the space our inaction creates. Perhaps this is the message we should take from the approaching Iranian fleet, however humble it may be.

Richard Moxley is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.