Iran has sent six warships into international waters in a move security experts are calling a "muscle flexing" show of defiance following missile tests last week.
"Iran has dispatched six ... warships to international waters and the Gulf of Aden region in a historically unprecedented move by the Iranian Navy," Iranian Adm. Habibollah Sayyari told a gathering of armed forces officials, Reuters reported.
Sayyari said the ships were moved to preserve Iran's territorial integrity in its southern waters, but foreign policy experts are calling it an aggressive move targeted at a Western audience as much as for regional powers like rival Saudi Arabia.
The deployment is "a signal of military strength, resolve and continued defiance to U.S. and U.N. Security Council efforts to end the impasse over Iran's nuclear program," said Jim Phillips, senior fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Heritage Institute.
"What's very important here is the timing of this move — and this naval muscle flexing comes after Iran's missile test earlier this week, which was saber rattling that was meant to send the same signal as this naval dispatch."
Phillips said Ahmadinejad was using the opportunity to thumb his nose at the U.S. and U.N. to advance his own popularity in Iran ahead of the country's hotly contested June 12 election.
Iran's naval access stretches along the Gulf of Aden, the Strait of Hormuz and the Sea of Oman. Iran has threatened to block the strait, through which about 40 percent of the world's traded oil is shipped, if it were attacked over its nuclear program.
Nearly 20,000 ships pass through the Gulf of Aden each year, heading to and from the Suez Canal, Reuters noted. Seven percent of world oil consumption passed through the Gulf of Aden in 2007, according to Lloyd's Marine Intelligence Unit.