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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Iranian warships to cross Suez Canal Tuesday morning?

Israel Radio reported Monday evening that those two Iranian warships had moved their Suez Canal departure up from Wednesday morning to Tuesday morning. But the ships are apparently playing a cat and mouse game with both the US and Israel, and it remains to be seen whether they will actually depart Tuesday morning.
On Monday, the Haaretz report indicated that Canal officials said “the [two Iranian naval] ships, a frigate and a supply vessel, are close to the southern entrance of the canal.”

A little later, Israel’s freewheeling DebkaFile website reported here that five U.S. warships have been deployed “in recent days”, some at the southern entrance to the Suez Canal, and others along the length of the waterway.

In fact, a U.S. fleet has reportedly been gathered near Ismailiya since early February, as large-scale popular protests against Husni Mubarak and his regime continued in cities throughout Egypt.

According to DebkaFile, an American aircraft carrier escorted by a missile cruiser and a fast supply ship on Thursday “headed south through the canal. By Friday morning, they were through and taking up position opposite the Kharg cruiser and Alvand missile destroyer … A battle of nerves is therefore underway.”

While DebkaFile has repeated its earlier report that “the Kharg was carrying long-range surface missiles for Hizballah”, part of the Haaretz report was much less alarmist, and said that the two Iranian ships “are not thought to be carrying arms shipments for Syria or Hezbollah, as was another Latakia-bound cargo ship stopped by the Israel Navy in November 2009, which turned out to be carrying hundreds of tons of weapons destined for Hezbollah warehouses.”

However, the same Haaretz report also stated that “Although the British-built Alvand is the Iranian navy’s flagship and is armed with Chinese-made missiles, Israeli military officials were confident yesterday that in the event of a confrontation the Israel Navy could sink it without advance preparation. ‘If the navy were to make a positive identification, it could be sunk almost immediately’, one senior official said last night. ‘We’re not even dealing with it, because [the Iranians] are only creating a provocation. From the military and marine perspective, the moment the ships enter the Mediterranean, they’re entering a trap’.”

The DebkaFile report said, in a similar tone, that the position of the U.S. warships “raised the possibility that the moment they venture to sail into the Suez Canal, the two Iranian warships will be boxed in… and called upon the allow their cargoes to be inspected as permitted by the last round of UN sanctions against Iran in the case of suspicious war freights.”

Whether it happens before, during or after their passage through the Suez Canal, the Iranian warships can expect to be hailed, intercepted, and inspected.

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