The Iranian Navy in the Mediterranean: Looking for War in all the Right Places

Iranian Frigate Alvand

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.

Iranian Supply Ship Kharq

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.

Israeli Navy Corvette Eilat a very modern and deadly SAAR V Class ship

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.

The USS Liberty AGTR-5 after being attacked by Israeli Air and Naval Units on 8 June 1967

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.

Israeli Sailors during the Battle of Latakia

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.


Padre Steve+



Filed under Foreign Policy, History, middle east, Military, national security, Navy Ships

10 responses to “The Iranian Navy in the Mediterranean: Looking for War in all the Right Places

  1. John Erickson

    I wonder, especially with the supply ship close to hand, if this mini taskforce might not be a rescue force. If Khaddafi gets booted, I doubt the Libyans would be tolerant of him remaining in Libya, and his neighbors probably wouldn’t welcome him, either. I would like to think the Iranians aren’t insane enough to push this “force” through to Gaza, but I’m not ready to underplay what stupidity the Iranian leadership is capable of. Besides, by transiting the Suez, the Iranians have already proved the Egyptian government will deal with them, at least at this low level. This gives the Iranians a point of “legitimacy”. Let’s hope this is all the point they are trying to make.
    By the by, Padre, I keep meaning to ask. What does the Arabic say in the background of your header photo? (“I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable response, as is “Mind your own business”! :D)

  2. William Aker

    John, I can’t express much optimism about this move at all. I wonder if President Obama is going continue to sit through this and we are going to repeat history acting as Britain did when they broke in war-vs-anti war factions in WWII. The season of “wait and see” is becoming terribly short.
    Padre Steve, I’m curious about the slogan also. At first notice it reminded me of the book cover illustration on “Charlie Wilson’s War.” I also wondered (pardon my weird sense of humor here) if it was Arabic for “Where is Charlie Wilson when you need him?”
    Also Padre, I would be very agreeable to you sending John my e-mail so we could pursue lengthy topics of importance only to us and leave the more important topics to your blog. John and I have struck up an e-acquaintance I’d like to cultivate and I don’t feel right taking up room on your blog to do this. If you would like to send me an e-mail first, I’ll gladly return my OK. Thanks, Bill

    • John Erickson

      Trust me, Bill, this is another “lose-lose” move. The LEAST trouble they can cause is to either just steam around and be a minor nuisance, or offer to take Khaddafi out of Libya. (Not likely, with his son trying to slide in, but it’s a possibility.) Their worst would be the Gaza run I suggested – Israel certainly doesn’t need more excuses to shoot at ANYTHING Iranian! I don’t know what (if anything) Obama has planned – I haven’t gotten my US Navy informational update yet due to the holiday. I’d like to know we at least have a DDG and a frigate or two to keep an eye on these ships – a sub would be better, though I think a CV would be a bit of overkill.
      And I would certainly like to expand our “e-quaintance”, as you put it. Padre Steve, you can pass me Bill’s email, or shoot him mine, and we can hook up accordingly. I look forward to hearing more from you, Bill – I foresee learning experiences for me, and an introduction to a truly warped sense of humour for you. Come along, if you dare! 😀

  3. Pingback: Two Iranian warships 'enter Suez Canal'

  4. B-Rob

    If sailing two useless ships to Syria is what counts as a “provocation” these days, then the Israelis are truly unhinged. It would be different if (a) Iran sent real fighting ships, or (b) the Iranian ships offloaded modern surface to surface missiles, or a supergun, that could hit all of Israel, or (c) if the Iranian ships intrude on Israeli waters. Should either of those three things happen, they would have cause to fight. But the last thing Israel should do is turn this into another fiasco like the Turkish ship that was running the blockade last year; that incident only made Israel look nuts.

    • padresteve

      I agree they pose little threat of themselves. However the Israelis and Iranians appear to be on a collision course for conflict at some point and it won’t take much to ignite that powder keg.
      Padre Steve+

  5. I just read an article that said no search took place of the Iranian vessels. It is not required of Naval vessels.

    • padresteve


      I have not read that article. The initial reports were that the Egyptians had conducted searches. While not normally done with naval vessels I can see why they would do so in relation to their own rocky relationship with Iran as well as not wanting to offend the Israelis even more than they were. If they didn’t search them so be it. But thanks for commenting and come back again.


  6. antonio godinho

    this is my first post here
    their first stop was (is at the moment) Syria, where the local army has several irian “advisers” in the field.
    I wonder if, instead of being an rescue ship this could be a (re)supply cargo for the syrian amry. And a special one that nedeed an escort vesell…
    Or/else, we must not forget that, until now, there wasn´t any “response” to the underground war against nuclear installations in Iran, made by Israel secret services, and the cargo could also be related with this (unsolved) issue.

    • padresteve

      One thing we know is that it is not simply a mission to show the flag. I expect that Iranian personnel and supplies from the Supply Ship Kharg will stay.

      Padre Steve+

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