Iran navy ships dock in Syria, train sailors

AFP , Monday 20 Feb 2012

Two Iranian warships have docked at the Syrian port of Tartus, state television reported on Monday, adding that their crew would be training Syrian sailors.

"The two ships, one which is a supply vessel and the other a destroyer have docked in Tartus, a port city north west of Damascus, and as per a bilateral agreement they will be involved in training the Syrian navy," the report said, without indicating when the vessels went into port.

Iran's navy chief, Admiral Habibollah Sayari, said on Saturday that Iranian ships "have passed through the Suez Canal for the second time since the (1979) Islamic Revolution." Their passage was to to show Iran's military "might," he said, without giving details of their mission.

On Monday, Iranian Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi said the transit of the two ships through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean "is a symbol of our nation's marine capability." "The presence of Iranian warships in the high seas is Iran's natural right," Vahidi was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

The deployment comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and Israel, fuelled by a longstanding dispute over Tehran's nuclear programme. Speculation has been rising that Israel might launch air strikes against Iranian atomic facilities.

The Israeli foreign ministry has said it "will closely follow the movement of the two ships to confirm that they do not approach the Israeli coast."

The first time Iran sent warships into the Mediterranean, in February 2011, it provoked strong reactions from Israel and the United States, with the Jewish state putting its navy on alert.
During the 2011 deployment, two Iranian vessels, a destroyer and a supply ship, sailed past the coast of Israel and docked at the port of Latakia in allied Syria before returning to Iranian waters via the Red Sea.

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