Saturday, February 18, 2012

18-Feb-12: Those Iranian ships are back

The head of Iran's navy, Commander Habibulah Sayari,
December 2011 [Image Source]

Almost exactly a year ago to the day, we wrote here ("20-Feb-11: Iranian warships have/haven't transited the Suez Canal [check one]") about two Iranian warships sailing through the Suez Canal and eventually docking in Syria. Much Syrian blood has been let since then (somewhere between five and seven thousand people, as we wrote in our Friday posting). And now they're doing it again.

The Iranian navy says (according to The Telegraph today) they are in the Mediterranean, having passed through the Suez Canal, to convey Tehran's "message of peace and friendship." A report tonight, quoting an Iranian agency, says two Iranian navy vessels docked at the port of Tartus in Syria yesterday (Friday). It says the vessels, described by the Iranians as a destroyer and a cargo ship, are there to train the Syrian navy.

Iran's global satellite news channel PressTV says it a little differently. The Iranian boats (it does not name them) sailed to Tartus, 220 kilometers northwest of Damascus, to provide "maritime training" to Syria’s naval forces under an agreement signed between Tehran and Damascus a year ago. It explains Iran's elevated naval energy levels this way:
"The Iranian Navy, in line with international efforts against piracy, has been conducting anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden since November 2008 to safeguard maritime trade and in particular ships and oil tankers owned or leased by Iran. Last May, International Maritime Organization (IMO) Secretary General Efthimios E. Mitropoulos described the anti-piracy efforts by Iran's Navy as “effective”." 

It's of course possible to think of Iran sending its naval resources around the neighborhood to satisfy its treaty obligations and to uphold the law, but experience with the messianic Islamists of Tehran suggests to look for other explanations. An Iranian website quotes Iran's navy commander Habibollah Sayyari saying this is a show of might as well as a “message of peace”. 
"The Navy’s 18th fleet will in the best way carry the message of peace and friendship to regional countries and display the might of the country and the sacred system of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said during a meeting with a number of Navy commanders and personnel. The naval fleet will prove that enemies’ sanctions against the Islamic Republic have neither hindered Iran’s scientific progress nor decreased the country’s military capability" 
and so on. 

The BBC says tonight that the two-boat mission comprises the destroyer Shahid Qandi and its supply vessel the Kharg (which is one of the Iranian vessels that sailed to Syria last year), and that they docked en route at Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. Whether or not this advances Iran's "sacred system" is not clarified by the BBC.

The killings of civilians by government forces in Syria, meanwhile, continued apace today. A syndicated AP report says:
Syrian security forces fired live rounds and tear gas at thousands of people marching Saturday in a funeral procession that turned into a protest in Damascus, killing at least one person, activists said. It was one of the largest demonstrations in the capital since the 11-month uprising against President Bashar Assad began. 

A UK newspaper ("Will Iran unleash its war of terror on the UK?") reminds us today of Iran's global capabilities in the context of a somewhat sensational article arguing that the upcoming Olympics in London may be a target of Iranian terror. Leaving aside the article's speculations about the future, it refers to the three Iranians detained by Thai authorities after this week's bombing of an Israeli vehicle:
"Saedi Moradi, who lost his legs, Mohammad Kharzei and Masoud Sedaghatazadeh are said by Western intelligence sources to be from the elite Quds unit of Iran’s 125,000-strong Revolution Guards Corps, ruthless enforcers who have agents in Iran’s embassies worldwide."

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