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With protests gathering steam in Bahrain, demonstrations reported in Libya, and clashes between pro- and anti-government movements in Yemen, Iran has exacerbated Middle Eastern tensions even further with its reported plan to send two warships through the Suez Canal. Israeli government officials and the Israeli Navy are closely monitoring two Iranian warships, which are anticipated to make a rare crossing of the Suez Canal. This would be the first time since 1979 the Iranian Navy has used the canal, and it is believed the ships’ destination is Syria. The Iranians, it was reported, are planning to send a “fleet” to the Mediterranean for a year.
With Mubarak having stepped down only days ago, the vessels’ appearance in the canal and in the Mediterranean is obviously meant to provoke and challenge Israel, which first alerted the world to the Iranian design. In this, the Iranians have succeeded. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the ships’ movements would be closely followed and “friendly states updated,” while Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called the Iranian move “a provocation that proves Iranians’ overconfidence.” Lieberman also castigated the international community for allowing “the recurring Iranian provocations,” indicating Israel’s patience may be coming to an end.
“The international community must understand that Israel cannot forever ignore these provocations,” said Lieberman.
The ships themselves appear to oppose no real danger to Israel’s military. They are described as a British-built frigate dating from the 1960s and a supply ship. The arms embargo the United States imposed on the Iranian regime after the 1979 revolution has left the Iranian military, three decades later, outfitted with mostly aged equipment from the shah’s time. Attempts have been made to smuggle in spare parts, modern weaponry and technology, but this has met with limited success. Many of the smugglers have also simply wound up in Western prisons.
China enjoys friendly relations with Iran and has sold it some modern arms, principally because the Persian Gulf country is a major source of oil for its expanding economy. Russia was also going to sell its modern S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to the Iranians to upgrade their 1970s-era air defense system but backed off due to the anger the proposed sale aroused in Israel and among Western states. The new, home-built weapons systems the Iranians announce from time to time also never seem to make it into production after the initial photo-op and are probably meant solely for propaganda purposes. This may include the new warship the Iranians unveiled a year ago, the Jamaran.
But while the two Iranian ships currently making their way to the Mediterranean may be museum pieces, their possible cargo could be another, and more deadly, story. War materials for Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, have been discovered on other Syria-bound ships in the past. In 2009, US soldiers found containers of ammunition for Kalashnikov rifles on a German-owned cargo ship in the Gulf of Suez that was heading for Syria. The ship had been leased to Iran. The same year, Israeli forces boarded another freighter, allegedly outbound from Iran, and came upon an arsenal of weapons, bombs, artillery shells and rockets destined for Hezbollah. Much of the weaponry Hezbollah now possesses, including UAVs used over Israeli territory, originated in Iran.
Although in a coalition government with other parties, Hezbollah now essentially rules Lebanon. After its 34-day war with Israel in 2006, the United Nations adopted a resolution calling for the Shiite militia to disarm. Instead, Hezbollah has made Lebanon a client state of Iran, which is rearming its proxy with even deadlier weapons, preparing it for the next round of war with the Jewish State.
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