Sunday, 19 February 2012

Iran claims its navy enters Mediterranean as tensions with Israel grow

Sunday 19 February 2012

Iran claims its navy enters Mediterranean as tensions with Israel grow
Iran's navy claimed its warships entered the Mediterranean on Saturday
to show its 'might' to regional countries, as a high-level American
official was due to arrive in Israel.

The claim, released through the official Iranian news agency, came at
a time of growing speculation that Israel will launch airstrikes
against Iran's nuclear programme.

"The strategic navy of the Islamic Republic of Iran has passed through
the Suez Canal for the second time since the (1979) Islamic
Revolution," said navy commander Admiral Habibollah Sayari.

He did not say how many vessels had passed through the canal, or what
missions they were planning to carry out in the Mediterranean, but
said the flotilla had previously docked in the Saudi port city of
Jeddah. Two Iranian ships, the destroyer Shahid Qandi and supply
vessel Kharg, had docked in the Red Sea port on February 4, according
to Iranian media. But Iran has made claims about its military moves
before that have later proved wrong. There was speculation the ships
may have been on the way to Syria, where Iran has supported President
Bashar al-Assad's ruthless repression of an uprising.

The admiral said the deployment would also convey Tehran's "message of
peace and friendship."

Two Iranian vessels reportedly passed through the Suez Canal last
February, soon after Egypt's uprising, for the first time since the
1979 revolution.

Israel put its navy on alert following Saturday's announcement.
Tensions are running high between the two enemies after a series of
assassinations in Iran of nuclear scientists, and terrorist attacks
against Israeli diplomats.

The announcement came as Foreign Secretary William Hague warned in
Saturday's edition of The Daily Telegraph of the danger of a nuclear
Cold War in the Middle East because of Iran's nuclear programme.

Iran's navy has been involved in sabre rattling several times in
recent months, especially in the strategic Strait of Hormuz where it
faces powerful American naval forces.

Later on Saturday US National Security Advisor Tom Donilon was due to
arrive in Israel for talks with senior Israeli officials on a range of
issues, including Iran and Syria, the White House announced.

The announcement came as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton voiced cautious
optimism about the prospect for Iran to return to nuclear talks with
six world powers.

The top White House aide's visit "is the latest in a series of
regular, high-level consultations between the United States and
Israel, consistent with our strong bilateral partnership, and part of
our unshakable commitment to Israel's security," a White House
statement said.

The visit comes ahead of a visit to Washington by Israeli Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for White House talks with Obama in early
March, where the leaders are likely to focus on Iran and the failure
to find a deal on resuming direct talks between Israeli and
Palestinian negotiators.

Meanwhile, during a press conference in Washington with Ashton, Mrs
Clinton called a letter that the European Union's top diplomat had
received from Iran "an important step" towards negotiations after a
year-long hiatus.