DEBKAfile Special Report – February 19, 2011
Cairo and Tehran connived to slip the two Iranian warships through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean Sunday, Feb. 20, after a series of fake delaying tactics agreed between them to cover the flotilla’s movements. Egypt’s military rulers approved the passage of Iranian flotilla through the Suez Canal without inspecting their freights for banned cargo, taking advantage of the sandstorm over the region which obscured them from spy satellites and helped them to give monitors the slip. Tehran marked this landmark event with an official state TV statement Sunday that the ships had entered the Mediterranean and were on their way to Syria. Sunday, Cairo was still saying they will only reach Suez Monday.
From earlier DEBKAfile reports: Cairo’s approval for Iranian warships transit of the Suez Canal has brought Israel and Iran closer than ever before to a naval collision at sea.DEBKAfile reports: Israel has learned that the Iranian cruiser Kharg is carrying long-range missiles for Hizballah which it plans to unload at a Syrian port or Beirut harbor.
US State Department spokesman P.J Crowley said he was “highly skeptical” of the Syrian claim that the two ships’ visit was for training. “If the ships move through the canal, we will evaluate what they actually do. It’s not really about the ships. It’s about what the ships are carrying, what’s their destination, what’s the cargo on board, where’s it going, to whom and for what benefit,” Crowley told a news conference.
He was responding to questions in the wake of DEBKAfile’s disclosure that the Karg was carrying missiles for Hizballah and indicating that the US and all other UN members were authorized by UN sanctions against Iran to board and search Iranian ships suspected of carrying illegal weapons.
Heavy US and Israeli pressure failed to dissuade Egypt’s military rulers from letting the Iranian flotilla through Suez. So now the waterway has been opened wide for Iran to consign heavy weapons deliveries to Syria and Lebanon – in the first instance, and eventually to try and break Israel’s naval blockade on the Gaza Strip and bring Hamas the heavy munitions that were impossible to transport through smuggling tunnels.
Israel was closely monitoring the Iranian flotilla, whose visit to the Saudi Red Sea port of Jeddah on Feb. 6, preparatory to transiting Suez, was first revealed exclusively by DEBKA-Net-Weekly 481 on February 10.
Up until now, Saudi Arabia, in close conjunction with Egypt and its President Hosni Mubarak, led the Sunni Arab thrust to contain Iranian expansion – especially in the Persian Gulf. However, the opening of a Saudi port to war ships of the Islamic Republic of Iran for the first time in the history of their relations points to a fundamental shift in Middle East trends in consequence of the Egyptian uprising. It was also the first time Cairo has permitted Iranian warships to transit Suez from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, although Israeli traffic in the opposite direction had been allowed.
Iran made no secret of its plants to expand its naval and military presence beyond the Persian Gulf and Red Sea to the Mediterranean via Suez: On February 2, Iran’s Deputy Navy Commander Rear Admiral Gholam-Reza Khadem Biqam announced the flotilla’s mission was to “enter the waters of the Red Sea and then be dispatched to the Mediterranean Sea.”
However, Israeli military intelligence which failed to foresee the Egyptian upheaval and its policy-makers ignored the Iranian admiral’s announcement and its strategic import, just as they failed to heed the significance of the Iranian flotilla’s docking in Jeddah.
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Iran is rapidly seizing the fall of the Mubarak regime in Cairo and the Saudi King Abdullah’s falling-out with President Barack Obama (seeDEBKAfile of Feb. 10, 2011) as an opportunity not to be missed for establishing a foothold along the Suez Canal and access to the Mediterranean for six gains:
1. To cut off, even partially, the US military and naval Persian Gulf forces from their main route for supplies and reinforcements;
2. To establish an Iranian military-naval grip on the Suez Canal, through which 40 percent of the world’s maritime freights pass every day:
3. To bring an Iranian military presence close enough to menace the Egyptian heartland of Cairo and the Nile Delta and squeeze it into joining the radical Iranian-Syrian-Iraqi-Turkish alliance;
4. To thread a contiguous Iranian military-naval line from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea through the Suez Canal and the Gaza Strip and up to the ports of Lebanon, where Hizballah has already seized power and toppled the pro-West government.
5. To eventually sever the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, annex it to the Gaza Strip and establish a large Hamas-ruled Palestinian state athwart the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea.
By comparison, a Fatah-led Palestinian state on the West Bank within the American orbit be politically and strategically inferior.
6. To tighten the naval and military siege on Israel.