Navy on alert as 2 Iranian warships transit Suez Canal

Lieberman: This is a provocation that proves the Iranians’ overconfidence is growing from day to day.

February 17, 2011 00:50
3 minute read.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman

Lieberman thoughtful 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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The Israel Navy was tracking two Iranian warships as they were set to make a rare crossing of the Suez Canal early Thursday morning.

The vessels were to cross into the Mediterranean Sea on their way to Syria. Defense officials said Israel would monitor them, although their presence in the sea would not change anything for the navy’s operational deployment.

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“It is strange for the Iranian Navy to use the Suez Canal since it really doesn’t have anything to do in the Mediterranean Sea,” one official said.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called the planned transit of the canal by the ships a “provocation that proves that the overconfidence of the Iranians is growing from day to day.”

Speaking at a meeting in Jerusalem of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Lieberman lashed out at the international community, which he said was not doing enough to confront Iranian provocations.

He also said he expected the world to “put the Iranians in their place. We are the true allies of the United States in the region, and the only ones that share its values. The international community needs to understand that Israel will not be able to ignore these provocations forever.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak held discussions late Wednesday with some of his foreign counterparts to update them about the arrival of the Iranian warships in the region.

The Egyptian body that runs the Suez Canal denied the claim that the Iranian ships were passing through.

Ahmed el-Manakhli, head of the canal operations room, said that warships must get permission 48 hours before crossing, and “so far, we have not been notified.”

In Washington, the Pentagon declined to comment.

“It would be inappropriate to speculate about the future movements of another country’s ships,” said Marine Corps Maj. Chris Perrine, a Defense Department spokesman. “I recommend you contact the government of Iran.”

State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said the US was monitoring the ships’ movements.

“There are two ships in the Red Sea – what their intention is, what their destination is, I can’t say,” Crowley told reporters in Washington.

“We’ll be watching to see what they do. We always watch what Iran is doing.” He declined to give further details.

Iran’s navy has a number of frigates that were built in the United Kingdom in the 1970s.

In 2010, Iran claimed to have launched a domestically manufactured multi-purpose corvette called Jamaran, which is believed to carry torpedoes, missiles and rapid-fire cannons.

In 2009, an Israel Navy submarine crossed the Suez Canal in a move that was interpreted as a display of power in face of Iran’s continued development of nuclear weapons. Israel is reported to have the capability of launching cruise missiles from its Dolphin-class submarines that could be used in the event of a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

An Israeli expert suggested that the Iranian move might be a red herring to test the waters in the region.

“Iran is interested in shifting attention away from the internal demonstrations and a military confrontation is always a convenient means of doing this,” Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Bar Ilan University, said in a telephone interview.

“This is currently a test of Israel and Egypt and the US in the wake of the regime change that is taking place in Egypt.”

AP and Bloomberg contributed to this report.

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