Iran has dispatched a flotilla of warships to the Gulf of Aden, the Iranian media reported today. According to Tasnim News Agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.), the Iranian naval fleet, which includes intelligence-operations and logistics vessels, left Iran’s Bandar Abbas for the overseas mission after receiving its final instructions from Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari and other top Navy officials. The I.R.G.C. outlet adds that the deployment of naval forces to the Gulf of Aden is aimed at ensure the security of naval routes for Iranian merchant vessels and oil tankers as well as “confronting the enemies’ negative propaganda and Iranophobic projects.”

Comment: The deployment of the Iranian flotilla comes amid increasing concern raised by the United States and the Saudi-led coalition about Iran’s support to the Houthi rebel movement in Yemen. It is also part of the Islamic Republic’s broader plan to increase its naval presence in international waters in the region and beyond. In a speech at the Khoramshahr Naval Base in southwest Iran last month, Sayyari said that his forces “will have stronger presence in international waters, expand the area of the naval maneuvers, and develop production of equipment” in the current Iranian calendar year, which began on March 21. The Iranian Navy had also dispatched its 45th Group – which consisted of a ship and destroyer – to the Gulf of Aden and Bab al-Mandab in March. And last November, the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, triggered alarm in the region after he said Iran sought to set up naval bases in Yemen and Syria.

U.S. naval officials have in recent months repeatedly complained about Iran’s hostile maritime actions that disrupt international navigation in the Persian Gulf. They have also warned that Iran’s provocative naval maneuvers increase the chance of miscalculation and unintended confrontation in the Gulf region. Last a U.S. warship sent helicopter gunships to deter Iranian speedboats that harassed a U.S.-led five-vessel flotilla as it entered the strategic Strait of Hormuz.