Iran may seek to set up naval bases in Yemen and Syria in the future, the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces said in remarks published on Sunday.
His comments, likely to be of concern to Shi’ite Iran’s Sunni regional rival Saudi Arabia and its allies, raised the prospect of distant footholds perhaps being more valuable militarily to Tehran than nuclear technology.
“We need distant bases, and it may become possible one day to have bases on the shores of Yemen and Syria, or bases on islands or floating (bases),” said General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, quoted by the Shargh daily newspaper.
He went on to say that Iran needs a fleet in the Indian Ocean that would be equal to the one stationed in the Gulf of Oman, and urged the Navy to enhance its intelligence activities by working on satellite and cyber-space technologies, as well as by developing naval drones.
Iran should also develop its own naval infrastructure, as its coasts could provide space for several new ports, the major general said, stressing that the Islamic Republic should break Russia’s monopoly on providing Central Asian countries with access to international waters.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are on opposite sides in Middle East conflicts, with the Iranians a main ally of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war and of the armed Houthi movement fighting a Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen.
In a rare rebuke for Iran, a Houthi official on Sunday criticized Baqeri’s comments and urged Tehran to read about the history of failed attempts to occupy Yemen.
“Not one inch of Yemen’s land or waters will be forfeited to any foreign party … whether a friend or an enemy,” said Saleh al-Samad, the Houthis’ political council chief in a statement on Facebook.
There was no response from Syrian president on Iran’s plan to establish naval bases in Syria