For the first time since the Iranian Revolution Iranian warships have permission to transit the Suez Canal, an international waterway. The Frigate Alvand and the supply ship Kharq passed inspection to ensure that no contraband or illegal weapons were aboard and should pass through the canal in the coming days. The Iranians clam that the ships will sail to Syria where they will operate from in the coming months.
To me the move by Iran appears to be an attempt to provoke Israel into a war. Israel views the move with suspicion and calls it provocative. In that they are right. It is suspicious that the Iranians would send ships to the Mediterranean and one wonders what they are up to. Based in Syria the ships can support pro-Iranian Hezbollah forces in Lebanon and show the Iranian flag in countries that are slipping into the throws of revolution. As such the two ships are a provocative presence that Israel has a right to be concerned about. At the same time the ships themselves pose no threat to Israel in any way shape or form.
The Frigate Alvand is a Vosper Mark V Frigate commissioned in 1971. It is small (1,540 tons full load) and fast but old and not heavily armed. Alvand and its two sister ships are armed with 4 C-802 Anti-Ship cruise missiles and a 4.5” gun was well as various light anti-aircraft weapons and anti-submarine torpedoes. The electronics suite on Alvand class is not state of the art by any sense and they are of limited combat value despite Iranian claims otherwise.
The 40 year old Alvand is accompanied by the Supply Ship Kharq which is a 1960s British design which the Iranians commissioned in 1980. It has a light armament and is of negligible combat value. The two ships paid a recent port call at Jeddah Saudi Arabia while conducting operations in the Red Sea.
Both the Alvand and the Kharq are totally outclassed by the Israeli Eilat Class (Saar V) Corvettes and have no defense to speak of against Israeli surface units, submarines or air forces. They are of propaganda value only and if as some suggest they would attempt to escort convoys into Gaza they would probably be sunk by the Israelis before they could get off a shot. The danger of course is that the Iranians are purposely sending the ships to the Mediterranean to provoke an Israeli response and ignite a conflict between the two nations to further destabilize the region.
The Israeli Navy has a first strike capability against Iran itself in its three modern German built Dolphin Class submarines which are believed to be capable of launching nuclear capable cruise missiles and which have been deployed in waters near Iran.
Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in an e-mail statement: “Israel is closely following the movements of the Iranian ships and has updated friendly states on the issue. Israel will continue to follow the ships movements.”
While the movement of the two ships through the Suez which is an international waterway is provocative and comes at a time of increasing tensions they pose little threat to Israel. However as part of a broader view taking into account the activities of Hezbollah in Lebanon, instability in Israel’s Arab allies Egypt and Jordan and Iran’s military buildup and nuclear program it is obvious that Iran has a purpose in deploying the two ships to the Mediterranean and that the purpose includes upping the pressure on Israel and perhaps provoking a military response. Whatever the actual purpose we can be sure that Iran’s intentions are not peaceful and the only purpose for the ships to be in the Mediterranean is to provoke a clash with the Israelis or to offer direct support to the actions of Hezbollah and Hamas against the Israelis or in the case of Hezbollah to ensure the complete hegemony of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Israel’s Navy while the smallest of the Israeli armed forces is quite capable and combat proven over the years. It has shown that it is not afraid to engage in combat with what Israel perceives to be threats, even the United States Navy as it did in the 1967 Six Day War where it launched a devastating prolonged attack on the USS Liberty AGTR-5 killing 34 and wounding 171 of its crew. The Israelis have long contended that the attack was a case of mistaken identity but the preponderance of evidence makes it look like the attack was deliberate.
Egyptian Osa Class Missile Boat during 1973 War. The Israeli Navy sank 8 Egyptian and Syrian ships at the Battle of Latakia and Battle of Baltim with no losses to themselves in the first battles between guided missile ships
During the Yom Kippur War of 1973 the Israeli Navy destroyed 5 out of 5 Syrian Komar and Osa Class Missile Boats at the Battle of Latakia and 3 of 4 Egyptian Osa Class Missile Boats at the Battle of Baltim. Should the Iranian ships even look like they are threatening Israel the Israelis will have little patience and the ships will have an incredibly short combat life. If that happens then expect a regional war to follow as Hezbollah, Iran and possibly Syria respond.
The clip below is from Iran’s English Language Press TV and is an Iranian assessment of their naval capabilities.