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Sailing into the Mediterranean Sea
Sat, 26 Feb 2011 10:45:32 GMT
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The Iranian Khark warship (photo above) along with Alvand warship passed through the Seuz Canal for the first time since the Islamic Revolution of Iran in 1979.
Two Iranian warships have passed through the Suez Canal and docked at the Syrian port of Latakia in the Mediterranean Sea, with no one daring to inspect them.

There are two simple reasons for this: The passage of the two Iranian vessels through the strategic waterway was not in contravention of any international or maritime laws; and the situation has completely changed in the Middle East.

Israel reacted immediately when it learned that the Iranian vessels were to pass through the Suez water route.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called it a provocative move, saying that Tel Aviv would not remain silent.

The Israeli Army also published unsubstantiated allegations about the two Iranian warships, offering no evidence to corroborate its claims. The Israeli newspaper, Maariv, quoted Tel Aviv military sources as saying that the two vessels were shipping missiles with different ranges, along with night-vision equipment and munitions to the Lebanese Hezbollah.

At that point, Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu stepped in and announced that Tel Aviv would react to the move.

Israeli President Shimon Peres also tried to put an international spin on the issue, saying during a speech in Madrid, that the passage of the Iranian warships through the Suez Canal had sounded alarms for Europe and the entire world.

Israel described the move as a sequel to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's trip to Lebanon, claiming that it strengthened anti-Israeli governments, while weakening moderate Arab states.

Israel's threats, along with its hue and cry, failed to have the desired effect on governments in the region or the rest of the world. The White House, as well as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, announced they knew about the two Iranian vessels. An aide to French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the passage of the warships had little military significance, but was, instead, a political message which "we should pay attention to."

NATO's reaction was similar. "We follow events in the region and we follow these two Iranian warships with as much interest as we do any other warships in the region," said NATO spokesman Oana Lungescu.

Israel was hoping its threats would make the US pressure Egypt's military council into keeping the two Iranian vessels from passing through the strategic waterway. That effort failed, too, as Tel Aviv seems to be unaware of the fact that Hosni Mubarak - a strategic ally of Israel - is no longer ruling Egypt. Last year, Mubarak allowed Israeli submarines to pass through the canal from the Mediterranean into the Red Sea, from which they ultimately reached the Persian Gulf.

Israel, Egypt and NATO had already agreed to inspect the Iranian ships to, as they phrased it, 'keep weapons from reaching Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza.' Nevertheless, no inspection took place and Israel conceded defeat.

After finding out that Egypt would allow the Iranian vessels to pass through the Suez Canal, Israel had to swallow the mistake that its military leaders had made. Tel Aviv then announced that the passage of the warships posed no threat to Israel, and was not in violation of international regulations.

Some Middle East analysts characterized the docking of the Iranian ships at Syria's Latakia port a "historic and strategic sign," which is extremely important if viewed against the backdrop of the recent regional developments.

Israeli pressure on the US and the new Egyptian government failed, as the US is not strong enough to enter a standoff with Iran, given the growing revolutionary developments in the Arab world and Washington's vetoing of an Arab-Palestinian resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Under the Constantine Agreement in the late Nineteenth century, the Egyptian government is obliged to allow vessels belonging to non-belligerent governments to pass through the Suez Canal, which connects the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Iran is not a belligerent country for Egypt. Moreover, the two vessels are not on a war mission, but are simply going to take part in joint military exercises with Syria.

Israel has not yet come to the understanding that it cannot issue orders in the region any longer, that the US is not as strong as it used to be in the Middle East, that Washington and Tel Aviv's Arab allies are being gradually superseded by governments, which are very close to their people -- people who have not approved of Israeli actions over the past 60 years. Not only Egypt, but the whole region has changed.

The passage of the Iranian warships through the Suez Canal in order to participate in joint war games with Syria had been planned before the recent developments in the Arab world began to unfold, but it happened to come at a time when those developments changed the priorities in the region for the United States and other western governments. Israel launched a political propaganda campaign without paying attention to the recent events, and failed accordingly. Maybe this failure will get Israel to change its priorities in the Middle East and occupied Palestine as well. But, will this happen?

MS/NN/TG/MGH
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