Four months after Iranian Navy warships undertook a trip that took them along the coasts of Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina, among many other countries, its Naval chief announced plans to establish a base in Antarctica “for military and scientific purposes.”
“Iran’s rapprochement with Latin America seeks to demonstrate that the government of Tehran is not isolated and that it has allies in the Western Hemisphere, which can also be read as an open challenge to the United States,” Alberto Rojas, director of the Observatory of International Affairs at Chile’s Finis Terrae University, told Diálogo on October 28. “That was the goal of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s June trip to the region. However, Raisi only visited Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Cuba, undemocratic countries with an openly anti-U.S. policy.”
In May, the naval mission of the destroyer IRIS Dena and forward base ship IRIS Makran made what the regime described as its Navy’s first round-the-world voyage. The Iranian Navy “broke its record” for distance sailed in international waters, even crossing the Strait of Magellan, Iran’s official news agency IRNA reported.
A key objective of Raisi’s trip was to show to the Iranian people that, despite the claims of the West and Iranian opposition groups, their country is not isolated, Costa Rican daily La Nación reported. For some experts, the trip that attempted to project naval power was rather symbolic.
“Regarding the circumnavigation trip of the IRIS Dena and IRIS Makran, which also passed by the South Pole, the truth is that it had more of a media effect,” Rojas said. “In reality, the fleet’s ships were not received in all the countries they passed by.”
Signed in December 1959, the Antarctic Treaty establishes that Antarctica is to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes. It prohibits the erection of military bases and fortifications, any military maneuvers, as well as testing of any kind of weapons.
Iran, however, is set on conquering the white continent. “Our plan in the future is to raise the proud flag of Iran in Antarctica,” Iran’s Navy Chief Shahram Irani said. When asked if that meant establishing a permanent base, he replied, “God willing.”
“Iran’s presence in Antarctica is important for various scientific, legal, political, geostrategic, and economic aspects,” Abolfazl Saleh, director of Iran’s Institute of Marine Science Studies, told Spanish daily ABC. “In the future this region will be an important issue in the international arena.”
“Iran’s interest in Antarctica is to improve its image as a country and to be able to say that they have a scientific presence there, just like other players such as Russia, China, or India. Its arrival on the white continent is very late, but it would allow it a naval presence in the southern waters of the Pacific and the Atlantic,” Rojas added. “Several countries have their sights set on 2048, when technically the current treaty can be modified. It’s no secret that Antarctic mineral and energy reserves represent a factor that arouses the interest of many governments, including Iran.”
Iran says that it could achieve direct access to the Antarctic and as such “claim sovereignty” in that area.
“Anyway, Iran is far from having a ‘blue-water’ navy, as its fleet is neither numerous nor modern. Its main naval assets are Revolutionary Guard speedboats, with which they harass freighters in the Persian Gulf, Rojas said. “Taking into account its difficult economic situation, a product of the numerous international sanctions, its economic and military influence in the Latin American region is limited.”