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Iran’s Sea Power: US Should Know Where It Stands, and Stand There

3 May 2016 21:05



The Law of the Sea Treaty says activities pursuant to self-defense are consistent with the United Nations’ 1982 Convention.

It is within the framework of this particular Convention that Iran as a signatory no longer accepts the US navy to have a wide presence in the Persian Gulf.

To begin with, the Law of the Sea Treaty requires parties to the Treaty to adopt regulations and laws to control pollution of the marine environment and security. Likewise, Freedom of Navigation, a principle of customary international law, says ships flying the flag of any sovereign state shall not suffer interference from other states. However, not all UN member states have ratified the Convention; notably, the United States has signed, but not ratified it!

That says why the United States continues to challenge, and even threaten with sanctions, Iran’s territorial rights in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman, including its annual naval maneuvers in the Strait of Hormuz.

This is while on several occasions, the armed forces of the United States (not a Coastal State) have conducted operations in the Persian Gulf in collaboration with Arab littoral states. Throughout the years, US forces, using numerous naval bases in the region, have also been performing “Freedom of Navigation” operations in the Strait of Hormuz with little respect to the Law of the Sea Treaty. For instance, we can still remember vividly how Iran freed 10 US sailors after detaining them on January 12 for having crossed into its territorial waters.

This particular incident and many others explain why Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamanei says the US Navy’s aggressive presence in the Persian Gulf is counterproductive, calling it an infringement of Iran’s rights. Here, the US should know where it stands, and stand there, which in the words of Ayatollah Khamenei, is indeed the Bay of Pigs!

Under 1982 Convention and Freedom of Navigation, however, Iran as the largest Coastal State in the Persian Gulf that also borders the Strait of Hormuz is allowed to:

1-Exercise sovereignty over its territorial waters
2-Stage naval drills for self-defense and security
3-Regulate navigational and other aspects of passage through the Strait of Hormuz
4-Establish sea lanes and air routes
5-Have sovereign rights in a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone with respect to natural resources and certain economic activities, and exercise jurisdiction over marine science, research, and environmental protection
6-Have freedom of navigation, transit, and overflight
7-Prevent and control insecurity under international obligations

It is within the boundaries of this Convention that Iran as a signatory continues to stage naval drills in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman. It is also within the framework of the same Convention that the Iranian Leader says “Tehran will continue its military drills,” since sea power of both the hard, naval kind and the softer kind that involves trade, is as vital as ever for national security.

There is little doubt that Iran’s naval drills also adhere to International Maritime Law by helping to reinforce regional security and peace. Meaning, America is not right to be worried about Iran becoming a regional maritime power. What makes Iran’s rise as a sea power troubling for the Arab littoral states that rely on America to maintain their own order are in fact its independent policies and security programs, as well as where it lies.

Indeed, there is nothing wrong with Iran regarding a powerful navy as essential to its security, prestige and self-image, particularly if it eventually also uses it to reinforce regional order. Iran itself knows what it is doing. It is the United States that seemingly is not in the know. It is using its Naval presence in the region for more than just flag-waving, diplomatic signaling, and discreet bullying.

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