Iranian warships have crossed the Suez Canal on their return from the Syrian port of Tartus, demonstrating Tehran's commitment to back embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose regime has now been thrown a new lifeline by China and Russia.
Reuters news agency is reporting that the two ships — one destroyer and the other, a supply vessel — were heading, early Tuesday, towards the Red Sea via the Suez Canal. They were returning from Tartus, located 220 km from the Syrian capital, Damascus.
The docking of Iranian warships in Syria appears to have already provoked some anxiety in neighbouring Israel. On Sunday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said, “If the boats come near our territorial waters, we will monitor them very closely.”
Analysts say the docking has also opened up the possibility of the emergence of Iran, Russia and China as partners standing up to the West, which is working feverishly with its Arab allies to topple Mr. Assad.
It was not clear whether the ships off-loaded any cargo at Tartus that would bolster the Assad regime. Nevertheless, the warships dropping anchor at a port on the Mediterranean Sea, a stretch of water that for long being viewed as a “European lake”, was full of symbolism — of Iran's refusal to kneel before the ongoing economic warfare waged by the West, which has also threatened Tehran with military force.
Signalling that it had aspirations of developing a blue-water capability, Iran's Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi has declared that the Islamic Republic will continue to strengthen its naval clout and multiply its presence in the international waters, IRNA reported on Tuesday. He stressed that advancements in Iran's naval capabilities were “unstoppable”.
Iran appeared to have carefully timed the visit of its warships, which have followed the docking earlier at Tartus of the giant Russian aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov. In Iran, influential law makers were quick off the blocks to suggest that developments in Syria were uniting Tehran and Moscow, with the open ended possibility of other major players occupying the tent.
“The presence of Iran and Russia's flotillas along the Syrian coast has a clear message against the United States' possible adventurism,” said Hossein Ebrahimi, a vice chairman of the Iranian Parliament's national security and foreign policy commission, Fars News Agency reported on Monday. He added: “In case of any U.S. strategic mistake in Syria, there is a possibility that Iran, Russia and a number of other countries will give a crushing response to the U.S.” Mr. Ebrahimi's remarks follow a dash to Damascus by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister, Zhai Jun, who elaborated on China's decision to veto a western-backed Arab resolution on Syria.
In tune with the diplomatic clashes on Syria, the Chinese state media has now begun to splash detailed commentaries advocating greater strategic collaboration between Beijing and Moscow. A recent write-up in the Chinese Communist Party newspaper Global Times softened some ground for such a possibility in the wake of U.S. military bullishness.
“The two [China and Russia] do have countermeasures against the U.S., and they are capable of deterring U.S. allies. If they are really determined to join hands, the balance of power on many world issues will begin to shift,” said the commentary.
In the entire exercise of sending naval ships into the Mediterranean, Iran has been quietly supported by Egypt, whose new military rulers have allowed these vessels to transit through the Suez Canal. Iran's semi-official Press TV is reporting that on Thursday, the Egyptian military authorities had issued permission for the Iranian warships to sail through the Suez Canal. This was the first occasion when Iranian warships have been allowed to sail into the Mediterranean Sea through the Canal. “Over the next few months, Egypt is likely to demonstrate greater balance in foreign and security policies, which will be a real departure from the era of the former President Hosni Mubarak,” said an Egyptian diplomatic source, who did not wish to be named.