Iranian ships to dock in Syria

AFP , Thursday 24 Feb 2011

Two Iranian warships normally armed with torpedoes and missiles due to arrive Thursday in Syria put Israeli navy on high alert. Israel warns if provoked they will respond immediately

The Iranian navy frigate IS Alvand passes through the Suez canal at Ismailia, Egypt (Photo:AP)

Two Iranian warships sailing in the Mediterranean Sea from the Suez Canal are due to dock at the Syrian port of Lattakia today, Iranian news agency IRNA said.

No Iranian vessels have transited through the canal since the 1979 Islamic revolution, much less warships -- a move which has put the Israeli navy on high alert.

The two ships transited the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean on Tuesday, prompting Israel to warn it would respond immediately to any "provocation" as it put its navy on high alert.

More specifically, a senior Israeli security source told AFP that Israel would "not initiate any action" against the Iranian vessels, however, if the Iranians deviated in any way that could be considered "a provocation" there would be an "immediate Israeli response."

The 1,500-tonne Alvand is normally armed with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles, while the larger 33,000-tonne Kharg has a crew of 250 and facilities for up to three helicopters, according to Iran's official Fars news agency.

Egypt’s state-run MENA news agency reported, however, that neither ship is carrying chemicals nor nuclear material. The ship is carrying many cadets.

Furthermore, Iran's naval commander, Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayari, was quoted by the Iranian news agency as denying media reports that the ships will be carrying out military drills.

"The Zionist regime may create concern for itself and look at this issue from its own point of view, but we will carry out our plans regardless of this regime and in coordination with the friendly nation [Syria] in the region," said Sayari.

"The trip ... is an ordinary visit of the navy and carried the message of peace and friendship," IRNA quoted him as saying from Damascus, where he arrived on Wednesday.

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had already denounced on Sunday the ships' departure to the region as an Iranian power play, just days after his Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, branded it "a provocation."

Iran's main nemesis, the United States, said this week it is "watching carefully" the movements of the two ships.

"We continue to monitor the movements of these ships and their actions," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said. "We will be watching carefully to see where these ships go and the implications of that."

The NATO military alliance, too, said it was monitoring the ships.

Both ships were built in Britain during the 1970s for Iran, which ordered them before the Islamic revolution.

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