Posted by Joshua on Saturday, February 19th, 2011
Will Iranian War Ships Traveling through the Suez Canal Provoke War or Peace?
Recent news that Iran will send two warships through the Suez canal to dock in Syria has set off alarm bells for Israel and the US. Defense Minister Ehud Barak walked back comments by Foreign Minister Lieberman that Israel would possibly consider a military strike against the ships.
From the moment the Egyptian people began to move against Mubarak, Iran looked for a way to capitalize on the fall of Israel’s primary Arab partner. Warships through the Suez canal would demonstrate how the balance of power was tilting in the region. There is nothing illegal about sending warships through the Suez canal. Lots of countries do it.
Iranian officials have insisted the request is in line with international regulations. They said the two vessels are headed to Syria for training. On Thursday, the two Iranian naval vessels submitted a request to transit the Suez Canal, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said.
Ahmed al-Manakhly, a senior Suez Canal official, told AP that international agreements regulate the traffic through the canal. He said that only in the case of war with Egypt may vessels be denied transit through the waterway. Al-Manakhly noted that Iran and Egypt are not at war, and said the final decision on whether to grant the vessels’ passage lies with the Defense Ministry.
Iranian warships have not been able to pass through Egypt’s Suez Canal since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iranian state TV reported Saturday.
“This is awkward — at a minimum,” said David Schenker, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “It’s destabilizing. It raises tension, particularly in this time of transition in Egypt,” Schenker said. “This is typical of Syrian-Iranian opportunism.”
Why does this change things? One obvious reason is that Iranian warships could carry weapons to Syria, Lebanon or even Hizbullah.
Israel has been successful in blocking Syria from upgrading its military capability. The US and Europe stop merchant ships headed for Syria that may carry weapons from Iran or North Korea. How can they do this? They claim it is legal within the framework of the UN embargo on Iran meant to block its nuclear program. According to the US, ships traveling from Iran can be stopped and searched for arms.
For several months in 2009, Cyprus held the Russian-owned, Cypriot-flagged Monchegorsk off the southern port of Limassol. The U.S. and other European members of the council said the shipment violated Security Council resolutions and was, according to Haaretz, “traveling to Syria from Iran with weapons destined for Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia or the Palestinian group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.” U.S. and U.K. envoys said the weapons shipment violated the UN arms embargo on Iran. Iran said it did not.
Syria’s ambassador to the UN at the time argued that:
“Raising the issue of this shipment is part of an orchestrated campaign to exert pressure on us to get political concessions,” Ja’afari said in the interview. “We are saying that the Security Council has had all kinds of indications of Israeli violations of international law and has never held them accountable. It is a double standard. … Ja’Afari said Syria and other Arab nations have the right to obtain weapons to defend against “Israeli invasions and aggressions.” ”
If Iran were able to send war ships to Syria, Britain and the US would have to think twice before stopping them; although, they could be easily sunk by Israeli planes.
The US guarantees Israel’s QME or Qualitative Military Edge. In 2008, this longstanding policy was written into law and has since become the cornerstone of the U.S.-Israeli security relationship. It is defined as a guarantee to ensure:
“Israel’s ability to counter and defeat any military threat from any state, coalition of states, or non-state actors, while itself sustaining minimal casualties or damage.”
By guaranteeing Israel’s military hegemony in the region, the US has opened the way for Israel to expand its borders over the land it conquered in 1967, rather than trade it for peace. That is why Israel ‘deeply appreciates’ the U.S. veto on UN resolution condemning settlements of yesterday. As America’s ambassador to the UN, Susan E. Rice, said after her veto of the UN resolution:
“The United States has not characterized settlement activity as illegal since, 1980. And – but what we do believe firmly and have reiterated forcefully, including today, is that continued settlement activity is not legitimate.”
Realists argue that only by bringing the balance of power in the region back into equilibrium will peace be encouraged. This logic suggests that if Iran is able upgrade Syrian and Palestinian arms, peace may become more likely. Only by creating a balance of power in the region will Israel compromise rather than expand.
A year and a half ago, an Israel Navy submarine crossed the Suez Canal on its way from Haifa to the Red Sea, where it conducted an exercise, and back. The unusual voyage reflected the growing strategic cooperation between Israel and Egypt, which aimed a menacing message at Iran. The submarine’s crossing of the waterway demonstrated how quickly Israel could deploy its deterrent near Iran’s shores, with the tacit support of Egypt.
Once more, the canal is being used to deliver a message of deterrence – but this time the direction is reversed. Egypt is allowing Iranian warships to cross the canal, on their way to Syrian ports. Israel was publicly critical of the passage – arguing that it is a provocative move – but Egypt ignored the pressures and granted the Iranian navy permission to pass, symbolizing the change to the regional balance of power following the fall of President Hosni Mubarak.
Egypt is signaling that it is no longer committed to its strategic alliance with Israel against Iran, and that Cairo is now willing to do business with Tehran. This is precisely what Turkey has done in recent years under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Since the uprising against Mubarak, the cold peace between Egypt and Israel has cooled even further. The delivery of natural gas to Israel, which was cut off after a terrorist attack on a station in northern Sinai, has still not been resumed.
Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi returned to Cairo after decades in exile and addressed a million strong crowd in Tahrir Square on Friday, calling for the liberation of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the upcoming victory against Israel. In the past, the sheikh had expressed support for suicide attacks against Israelis and two years ago described the Holocaust as “God’s punishment of the Jews.”
The appearance of the Islamist firebrand in the square has returned hatred for Israel to the center of the public debate over Egypt’s future. Until now, the argument was that the revolution concerned domestic matters, not Egypt’s relations with the United States or Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood has also been trying to send messages of moderation to the West, but this is hardly comforting.
There is growing concern in Israel that Egypt will become a hostile front, adding to the feeling of international isolation which has only intensified since Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister. The recent vote at the UN Security Council over the Palestinian resolution to label the settlements as illegal only increased this sense of isolation. With 14 states supporting this measure, Israel needed an American veto to foil it.
The Palestinians may have lost that vote, but the issue demonstrated which side in the conflict enjoys widespread international recognition.
Bolstered with Congressional support, Netanyahu forced U.S. President Barack Obama into the veto – which he had avoided using to date. The Americans argued that internationalization of the conflict cannot replace direct negotiations, and that forced decisions will only result in parties taking up more extreme positions.
It is not yet clear what Obama will try to get from Netanyahu in return: a plan for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territories, or acceptance of an American peace plan. The U.S. president will argue that Washington needs to bolster its credibility in the Arab world and that Israel must contribute its lot to ensure that the new regimes in the area are friendly.
‘Clinton threatened to cancel aid to PA’ – Israel News, Ynetnews – In order to stop the PA from proposing the UN resolution declaring settlements illegal.
From Matt Duss
In terms of Israel’s security, the Wall Street Journal reported that “U.S. military aid to Israel increased markedly” in 2010, an effort that stems from policy directives the White House gave the Pentagon early in Obama’s presidency to “deepen and expand the quantity and intensity of cooperation to the fullest extent.” Speaking at the Brookings Institution in July, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro described in detail how the Obama administration is “preserving Israel’s qualitative military edge through an unprecedented increase in U.S. security assistance, stepped up security consultations, support for Israel’s new Iron Dome defensive system, and other initiatives.” President Obama raised the amount of U.S. military aid to Israel, making it the single largest expense in the 2010 foreign aid budget. He also authorized $205 million to enable Israel to complete the Iron Dome. Obama has significantly increased the level of strategic dialogue and the depth of intelligence coordination between the U.S. and Israel, particularly regarding Iran, a key Israeli security concern. According to one Israeli official, that coordination is now “even better than under President Bush.”
Since then, we’ve learned that, thanks to that intense coordination, outgoing Mossad chief Meir Dagan was able to report that Iran’s nuclear program had been set back several years.
As former Congressman Robert Wexler stated on a panel at Herzliya, the U.S. “has bent over backwards, during President Bush and even more so under President Obama, in attempts to secure Israeli security interests”:
When the Turkish government uninvited Israel to a joint military exercise campaign, what did Obama do? He withdrew the United States from the exercise, then what did he do? He brought the largest presence of US military personnel, they showed up to your [Israeli] ports, and we stayed for weeks, and then what did we do? We developed a coordinated anti-missile strategy with one purpose: to protect the Israeli people.
We have offered security package after security package after security package… We continue to engage on security issues and are not acknowledged for doing so.
Syria to EU: tackle Israel, not Egypt for Middle East peace
ANDREW RETTMAN, 17.02.2011
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – The EU should take firm action against Israeli settlement-building and human rights abuses instead of playing politics in Egypt if it wants to calm tension in the Middle East, Syria’s ambassador to the Union has said.
Speaking to EU observer in Brussels on Wednesday (16 February), Mohamad Ayman Soussan said the main danger of conflict in the region comes from the Arab-Israeli problem not the revolution in Egypt or Tunisia.
“Our European friends have a responsibility here, because Europe is the principal economic partner of Israel. They have all the means at their disposal to make Israel reconsider its position vis-a-vis international law. Europe must assume this responsibility if it ever intends to take its rightful place in the international order,” he explained.
“Where in Europe do you see such a level of brutality against demonstrators? Where do you see roads that can be used only by one kind of people? Israel practices apartheid and the EU assists this everyday through its ongoing relations.”
Wikileaks: Origin: Embassy Manama
SUBJECT: LEBANON TRIBUNAL: BAHRAIN SUPPORTIVE; NO FINANCIAL COMMITMENT
1. (C) Pol/Econ Chief met with MFA Undersecretary Abdulaziz bin Mubarak Al-Khalifa on February 7 to review the Secretary’s note verbale and talking points A-G (reftel). SIPDIS Al-Khalifa expressed strong support for the tribunal and Bahrain’s commitment to working cooperatively to promote peace and stability in Lebanon, but said that limited resources meant that the GOB would likely not be able to contribute financially. Al-Khalifa said that the GOB would continue its public and private support of PM Siniora’s government, and agreed that obstacles to the presidential election must be removed. He added that it would be “absolutely unacceptable” for Hizballah to enter the government. Al-Khalifa said that “the time has come to talk publicly about Syria’s uncooperative stance,” and that he believed the Arab states would send a strong message to Syria at the Damascus Summit. He hinted that King Hamad would no attend..”