In a remark that is likely to heighten tension in the Gulf region, the Iranian chief of staff of the armed forces has called for setting up naval bases across on the coasts of Yemen and Syria in the future.

“We need bases in distant regions, and sometime it may become possible to have bases on the shores of Yemen or Syria, or bases on islands or mobile bases," Major General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri told a gathering of senior naval commanders on November 26. “Is having naval bases in faraway places any less [significant] than nuclear technology? I say it’s ten times more [important],” he added, reasoning that such a move would provide Iran with an effective deterrent against enemies.

Bagheri further noted that Iran needed a naval base in the Indian Ocean similar to the one located in the Gulf of Oman, and called on Navy commanders to develop sophisticated and covert intelligence tools to detect and deter enemies’ actions.  

Bagheri’s comment is likely to further unnerve regional Arab leaders that frequently complain that Iran plays destabilizing and expansionist policies in the Middle East.

The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) is directly engaged in the sectarian wars in Syria and Iraq by sending troops and funding and training Shiite militia forces in both countries. The IRGC’s elite Quds Force is also providing military and financial aid to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Houthi forces in Yemen to project power and undercut the influence of Saudi Arabia and other regional Sunni governments. Bagheri’s remarks about establishing navy bases in Syria and Yemen – albeit unrealistic at present - would also signal to Sunni Arab leaders that, far beyond just expanding its influence through proxies, the Iranian military is attempting to become the region’s supreme power. Such a move would also be a cause for concern to US military leaders, who have repeatedly criticized Iranian Navy’s threatening and irresponsible behavior in the Gulf region.