Daily Israel Report

US, Israel Warships in Suez May Be Prelude to Faceoff with Iran

Egypt let Israeli and US warships pass through the Suez Canal as Iranian flotilla approaches Gaza. Egypt closed the canal to protect the ships.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 6/20/2010, 5:37 PM / Last Update: 6/20/2010, 6:08 PM

Egypt allowed at least one Israeli and 11 American warships to pass through the Suez Canal as an Iranian flotilla approaches Gaza. Egypt closed the canal to protect the ships with thousands of soldiers, according to the British-based Arabic language newspaper Al Quds al-Arabi.

One day prior to the report on Saturday, Voice of Israel government radio reported that the Egyptian government denied an Israeli request not to allow the Iranian flotilla to use the Suez Canal to reach Gaza, in violation of the Israeli sea embargo on the Hamas-controlled area.

International agreements require Egypt to keep the Suez open even for warships, but the armada, led by the USS Truman with 5,000 sailors and marines, was the largest in years. Egypt closed the canal to fishing and other boats as the armada moved through the strategic passageway that connects the Red and Mediterranean Seas.

Despite Egypt’s reported refusal to block the canal to Iranian boats, the clearance for the American-Israeli fleet may be a warning to Iran it may face military opposition if the Iranian Red Crescent ship continues on course to Gaza.

The warships may exercise the right to inspect the Iranian boat for the illegal transport or weapons. Newsweek reported that Egyptian authorities could stop the ship for weeks, using technicalities such as requiring that any official documents be translated from Farsi into Arabic.  

The magazine’s website also reported that the Iranian navy is the weakest part of its armed forces. Tehran has already backed down from announced intentions to escort the Iranian ships with "volunteer marines” from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

The Iranian news site Hamsayeh.net reported, “The move might be in connection to U.S. self-inflicted embargo against Iran aimed at inspecting Iran bound ships for suspected goods related to the country’s nuclear program.”

Another battle on the high seas may involve one, and possibly two, Lebanese vessels that are aimed at challenging Israel’s sovereignty over the Gaza coastal waters. Hizbullah, gearing up for a reaction to a possible clash between the Israeli Navy (pictured) and the Lebanese boats, has deployed rocket units near Lebanese ports, according to unofficial military sources.

Israel has warned U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that Israel will use force, if necessary, to stop the boats, one of which is carrying approximately 70 women passengers and crew organized by Hizbullah supporter Samar al-Hajj. Her husband is one of several jailed suspects involved in the assassination of former Lebanese anti-Syrian Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Hizbullah has denied it is connected with the Lebanese flotilla, but it has been reported that Al Hajj met with Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah last month.