Iran Warships Dock in Syria, Israel Navy on High Alert


Two Iranian warships, the first to enter the Mediterranean from the Suez Canal since 1979, docked at the Syrian port of Latakia on Thursday, an Iranian diplomatic source told Agence France Presse in Damascus.

Israel has put its navy on high alert, denounced the ships' arrival in the region as an Iranian power play and branded their voyage "a provocation."

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

"The two Iranian naval vessels have moored," at Latakia on the Syrian coast, the Iranian source told AFP.

The source said a reception ceremony was scheduled Friday at Latakia in the presence of Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayari, commander of the Iranian navy.

Iranian news agency IRNA quoted Sayari as saying the mission to sail past Israel to Syria had been accomplished without regard for Israeli concerns.

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

"The trip of our warships to the Syrian port of Latakia is an ordinary visit of the navy and carried the message of peace and friendship," IRNA quoted Sayari as saying.

Sayari denied media reports that the ships, the first Iranian vessels to transit the Suez Canal since the 1979 Islamic revolution, will be involved in any military drills.

"A number of Iranian navy cadets are present and they are on a long training voyage," he said.

The two ships passed through 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 alert.

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

Neither ship is carrying chemical or nuclear material, Egypt's state-run MENA news agency has reported.

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the ships' arrival in the region as an Iranian power play, just days after his Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman branded their voyage "a provocation."

An Israeli security source told AFP Israel would "not initiate any action," but vowed an "immediate Israeli response" if the Iranians deviated from international law in any way that could be considered "a provocation".

"We continue to monitor the movements of these ships and their actions," U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley has 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.

Their passage into the eastern Mediterranean comes as the Arab world grapples with a vast wave of protests that is radically changing the political landscape, and leaving Israel increasingly concerned about its security.