Israel on High Alert as Iranian Warships with Missiles Enter Suez Canal en Route to Syria
February 22, 2011
Two Iranian naval vessels entered the Suez Canal on Tuesday en route to Syria, officials said, the first time in three decades that Tehran has sent military ships through the strategic waterway.
Canal officials said the ships — a frigate and a supply vessel — are expected to reach the Mediterranean later in the day.
Israel has made clear it views the passage as a provocation. Israeli officials refused to comment Tuesday, though earlier this week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he viewed the move "with gravity."
The canal linking the Red Sea and the Mediterranean enables ships to avoid a lengthy sail around Africa. The Iranian ships are headed for a training mission in Syria, a close ally of Iran's hard-line Islamic rulers and an arch foe of Israel. In Syria, officials at the Iranian embassy said it would mark the first time in years that Iranian warships dock in a Syrian port.
The ships paid about $300,000 in fees for the passage, according to a Maritime agent. The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
Iran's request to send the warships through the Suez Canal came at a particularly difficult time for Egypt as the nation's new military rulers try to focus on pressing domestic issues, including restoring security after the uprising that ousted longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.
The military rulers apparently had no choice but to grant the ships passage because an international convention regulating shipping says the canal must be open "to every vessel of commerce or of war." Egypt also cannot search naval ships passing through the waterway.
Iranian warships have not passed through the Suez Canal since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Egyptian-Iranian ties broke down following the Islamic Revolution and the signing of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty the same year. Later, the relationship improved slightly, with contacts currently channeled through interest sections in the two capitals.
Suez Canal officials: Iranian warships to enter waterway Tuesday, first passage in decades
The Associated Press
February 21, 2011
Suez Canal officials say two Iranian naval vessels are expected to start their passage through the strategic waterway early Tuesday.
Canal officials say the ships are expected to pay a fee of $290,000 for the crossing. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they aren't authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
If the ships make the passage, it would mark the first time in three decades that Iranian military ships have traveled the canal that links the Red Sea to the Mediterranean.
Israel has made clear it views the passage as a provocation.
Canal officials said Monday that the ships, a frigate and a supply vessel, are close to the southern entrance of the canal. The vessels are headed to Syria for a training mission.
Israel on high alert for Iranian warships' Suez transit. Kharg brings missiles
DEBKAfile Special Report
February 19, 2011
Tehran connived to slip the two Iranian warships through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean Sunday, Feb. 20, after a series of fake delaying tactics agreed between them to cover the flotilla's movements. Egypt's military rulers approved the passage of Iranian flotilla through the Suez Canal without inspecting their freights for banned cargo, taking advantage of the sandstorm over the region which obscured them from spy satellites and helped them to give monitors the slip. Tehran marked this landmark event with an official state TV statement Sunday that the ships had entered the Mediterranean and were on their way to Syria. Sunday, Cairo was still saying they will only reach Suez Monday.
From earlier debkafile reports: Cairo's approval for Iranian warships transit of the Suez Canal has brought Israel and Iran closer than ever before to a naval collision at sea. debkafile reports: Israel has learned that the Iranian cruiser Kharg is carrying long-range missiles for Hizballah which it plans to unload at a Syrian port or Beirut harbor.
US State Department spokesman P.J Crowley said he was "highly skeptical" of the Syrian claim that the two ships' visit was for training.
"If the ships move through the canal, we will evaluate what they actually do. It's not really about the ships. It's about what the ships are carrying, what's their destination, what's the cargo on board, where's it going, to whom and for what benefit," Crowley told a news conference.He was responding to questions in the wake of debkafile's disclosure that the Karg was carrying missiles for Hizballah and indicating that the US and all other UN members were authorized by UN sanctions against Iran to board and search Iranian ships suspected of carrying illegal weapons.
The war ships' passage through Suez has been delayed as Cairo and Tehran spar over an Egyptian navy inspection of the vessels' cargoes.
In Israel, government and military officials were urgently casting about for a way to prevent those missiles reaching the Lebanese terrorists. Heavy US and Israeli pressure failed to dissuade Egypt's military rulers from letting the Iranian flotilla through Suez. So now the waterway has been opened wide for Iran to consign heavy weapons deliveries to Syria and Lebanon - in the first instance, and eventually to try and break Israel's naval blockade on the Gaza Strip and bring Hamas the heavy munitions that were impossible to transport through smuggling tunnels.
On February 16, debkafile reported:
Twenty-four hours after Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the Egyptian upheaval had no military connotations for Israel, Tehran applied for the Iranian frigate Alvand and cruiser Kharg to transit the Suez Canal on their way to Syria Wednesday night, Feb. 16. Their passage was termed "a provocation" by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. In Beirut, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah said he was looking forward to Israel going to war on Lebanon because then his men would capture Galilee.
Israel was closely monitoring the Iranian flotilla, whose visit to the Saudi Red Sea port of Jeddah on Feb. 6, preparatory to transiting Suez, was first revealed exclusively by DEBKA-Net-Weekly481 on February 10.
Up until now, Saudi Arabia, in close conjunction with Egypt and its President Hosni Mubarak, led the Sunni Arab thrust to contain Iranian expansion – especially in the Persian Gulf. However, the opening of a Saudi port to war ships of the Islamic Republic of Iran for the first time in the history of their relations points to a fundamental shift in Middle East trends in consequence of the Egyptian uprising. It was also the first time Cairo has permitted Iranian warships to transit Suez from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, although Israeli traffic in the opposite direction had been allowed.
Iran made no secret of its plants to expand its naval and military presence beyond the Persian Gulf and Red Sea to the Mediterranean via Suez: On February 2, Iran's Deputy Navy Commander Rear Admiral Gholam-Reza Khadem Biqam announced the flotilla's mission was to "enter the waters of the Red Sea and then be dispatched to the Mediterranean Sea."
However, Israeli military intelligence which failed to foresee the Egyptian upheaval and its policy-makers ignored the Iranian admiral's announcement and its strategic import, just as they failed to heed the significance of the Iranian flotilla's docking in Jeddah.
debkafile's military sources report that Iran is rapidly seizing the fall of the Mubarak regime in Cairo and the Saudi King Abdullah's falling-out with President Barack Obama (see debkafile of Feb. 10, 2011) as an opportunity not to be missed for establishing a foothold along the Suez Canal and access to the Mediterranean for six gains:
1. To cut off, even partially, the US military and naval Persian Gulf forces from their main route for supplies and reinforcements;
2. To establish an Iranian military-naval grip on the Suez Canal, through which 40 percent of the world's maritime freights pass every day:
3. To bring an Iranian military presence close enough to menace the Egyptian heartland of Cairo and the Nile Delta and squeeze it into joining the radical Iranian-Syrian-Iraqi-Turkish alliance;
4. To thread a contiguous Iranian military-naval line from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea through the Suez Canal and the Gaza Strip and up to the ports of Lebanon, where Hizballah has already seized power and toppled the pro-West government.
5. To eventually sever the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, annex it to the Gaza Strip and establish a large Hamas-ruled Palestinian state athwart the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea.
By comparison, a Fatah-led Palestinian state on the West Bank within the American orbit be politically and strategically inferior.
6. To tighten the naval and military siege on Israel.