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Iranian warships cross Suez canal

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu views Egypt-approved manoeuvre 'with utmost gravity'

Two Iranian warships have crossed the Suez canal en route to Syria, in a move that Israel said it viewed with the "utmost gravity".

 

The naval frigate and a supply ship entered the canal at 5.45am after receiving approval from the Egyptian authorities. It was the first time Iranian naval vessels have passed through the strategically important waterway since before the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979.

There was no immediate reaction from the Israeli government, but the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, told his cabinet on Sunday that Iran was trying to exploit instability across the region.

 

"I think that today, we can see what an unstable region we live in, a region in which Iran tries to exploit the situation that has been created in order to expand its influence by passing warships through the Suez canal," he said.

"Israel views this Iranian move with utmost gravity and this step, like other steps and developments, underscores what I have reiterated in recent years – Israel's security needs will grow and the defence budget must grow accordingly."

Last week, Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, described the Iranian move as a "provocation that proves that the self-confidence and impudence of the Iranians is growing from day to day ... Regrettably the international community shows no willingness to deal with these repeated Iranian provocations." Israel, he said, could not ignore such provocations forever.

The ships took about 10 hours to complete the 120-mile passage from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. They will pass along Israel's coast on their way to take part in a training exercise with Iran's close ally Syria.

Israel is deeply concerned about the implications of mounting unrest across the Middle East and fears the fall of the former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak could jeopardise the 31-year-old peace treaty between the two countries.

"The peace treaty [between Israel and Egypt] was the most important factor for stability in the Middle East – and stability is the key thing," said Ilan Mizrahi, a former head of Israel's national security council. Egypt, he said, "in the short term will be another point of instability" alongside Iran, Lebanon and Gaza.

Israel is also alarmed that the tumult sweeping the Arab world and Middle East has diverted international attention away from diplomatic efforts to halt Iran's nuclear programme.

Under international law, only ships from countries at war with Egypt are barred from passing through the Suez canal. But military ships need prior permission from Egypt's defence and foreign ministries.

from the Guardian

 

What does it really mean that Iran sent ships through the Suez Canal?

from Foreign Policy magazine



A missile-armed Iranian frigate and a supply ship passed through the Suez Canal today in what Israeli leaders have described as a "provocation" and an effort by Tehran to exploit recent instability in the Middle East "in order to expand its influence." The ships, which will travel along the Israeli coast on their way to a training exercise with Syrian forces, are the first Iranian naval vessels to cross the waterway since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. 

There's been some speculation over whether former President Hosni Mubarak would have allowed the ships through or whether the United States would put pressure on the new Egyptian government to deny the Iranians' passage, but the truth is that the Egyptians didn't have all that much choice in the matter. Use of the canal is still governed by the 1888 Convention of Constantinople, which clearly states that it "shall always be free and open, in time of war as in time of peace, to every vessel of commerce or of war, without distinction of flag." As long as the Iranian navy ponied up the $290,000 entry fee, it has as much right to the canal as any other country.

Iranian operations in the Mediterranean have been limited in the past, not by Egypt's control of the canal but by Iran's own minimal offshore naval capabilities. I spoke with Commander James Kraska, chair of operational law at the U.S. Naval War College, about the strategic implications -- such as they are -- of Iran's move: 

This is one warship and a supply vessel. Quite frankly, it won't change the strategic picture a whole lot. It's certainly one more thing to keep track of. Iran has meddled in Lebanon in the past, and I can see where it's a concern. But I just don't see where [Israel] coming out ahead and publicly trying to make the international community focus on this and putting pressure on Egypt to deny them passage was really effective.

Iran is mostly limited by its capability. It's very hard to do out-of-area operations. This is analogous to China sending ships to do anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden or Russian warships in Venezuela. It's a show-the-flag sort of thing. It's not as though Iranian ships can now operate routinely or comfortably away from their home base.

 

Tags: egypt, iran, israel
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