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Iran's Growing Naval Ambitions

Why It Wants Naval Bases in Syria and Yemen

One of two Iranian navy warships arrives to dock at Port Sudan, December 8, 2012. Reuters

In late November, Iran made an unusual announcement: it said it was planning to build naval bases in Syria and Yemen, which, as a state-run paper later posited, “could be ten times more efficient than nuclear power.” Although Iran has long striven to establish itself as a leading regional power, and naval outposts have been key to reaching that goal, this was the first time Tehran officially declared its intentions to build such bases beyond its own borders.

Bases in Syria and Yemen would be particularly important to Iran. Yemen sits on the strategic shipping route of the Bab el Mandeb Strait, one of the world’s most heavily trafficked waterways, and a naval outpost there would give Tehran unfettered access to the Red Sea and put it in a more advantageous position to threaten its main regional rival, Saudi Arabia. A base in Yemen would also enable Iran to

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