Iranian warships make second port call in Saudi Arabia

Iranian navy on a toot again.

An Iranian destroyer and supply ship docked in the Red Sea port of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Saturday, marking the second such deployment of an Iranian naval task force in a year.

In early February 2011, the first such task force made a stop in Jeddah on the way to an equally unprecedented visit to the Mediterranean.  While in the Med – as anti-regime fervor caught fire in the Arab nations – the Iranian warships visited Latakia, Syria.  According to disclosures from a Syrian who recently fled his post with the defense ministry, the Iranian warships in 2011 delivered arms to the Assad regime.

There is no public information on whether the current task force will go north through the Suez Canal.  In 2011, Iran announced the Suez passage of the first task force before the ships arrived in Port Suez on the Red Sea.

One of the noteworthy aspects of last year’s visit was that it occurred in the same time period as the visit in Jeddah of the French aircraft carrier, FS Charles de Gaulle.

This year’s deployment occurs in conjunction with a fresh Iranian naval exercise in the Strait of Hormuz.  It also occurs in the immediate wake of a speech in which Ayatollah Khamenei announced that Iran would “support and help any nations, any groups fighting against the Zionist regime across the world.” Characterizing Israel as “a true cancer tumor,” Khamenei declared:

The Zionist regime … should be cut off.  And it definitely will be cut off.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, doing his bit earlier this week to support America’s and Israel’s strategic interests, announced his suspicion that

… there was a ”strong likelihood” of Israel launching a unilateral strike against Iranian nuclear facilities in ”April, May or June.”

The helpful nature of this disclosure can hardly be overstated.  It keeps Iran on perpetual alert and tips Israel’s hand even if the Israelis are not planning a strike for the particular timeframe indicated.  I’m not sure what the Obama administration thinks it’s accomplishing with these incessant hand-wringing references to what Israel might be about to do – there are a couple of possibilities, which I have discussed before.  But the most probable consequence is Iran wanting badly to inflict another “intifada” on Israel, and keep her preoccupied with self-defense.

Outcomes and new power relationships are still in flux in the region, a year on from the Hezbollah takeover of the Lebanese government and the eruption in Tunisia that launched the “Arab Spring.”  Putting another naval task force in the northern Red Sea is an Iranian move intended to impress the region, and establish a presence and freedom of action.  It may also be intended pragmatically, like last year’s deployment, to deliver arms somewhere.  Iranian commercial ships may get stopped, but warships probably won’t.

Meanwhile, the exercise in the Strait of Hormuz does more than merely send political signals.  It provides training for the Iranian sailors – something they always need – and it begins to establish a pattern of more frequent exercises.  In the future, assuming that that pattern continues, it will be harder for the US and other navies to distinguish an exercise from a set-up for a real operation.

It is interesting to note that the Iranian warships have arrived in Jeddah just as the Russian carrier task force has departed the Med.  The RFS Admiral Kuznetsov and escorts entered the Atlantic, reportedly for the return transit to their homeports, on 3 February.  Kuznetsov visited Syria several times in December and January.  If the Iranian warships are headed for Syria – and that is not established yet – it is a good question whether any other navy in the Med would attempt to intercept them.  The navies of France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Israel have the capability to; the question is whether they would. A Russian arms carrier was allowed to deliver weapons to Syria last month.

The region is shifting away from the condition of relative stability it inhabited as little as two years ago.  Some things mean more now than they once would have, and some mean less.  It went over most Americans’ heads, for example, that the homicidal soccer melee in Egypt on Wednesday occurred in Port Said, the entry point to the Suez Canal on the Mediterranean side.  Additional follow-on violence has been seen in Port Suez, the southern access point on the Red Sea side of the canal.  A crowd of at least 3,000 besieged the governorate security-force headquarters there on Friday, and had to be fought back by security personnel, with two protesters being killed.

The Egyptian revolution in early 2011 saw long-running protests in Suez, organized by the labor unions that work the port facilities.  National authorities have assured the world that the canal will be kept safe, but the latest rounds of violence have hit the canal’s northern and southern access points within the space of 48 hours.  The interim regime’s ability to secure the canal without a fight, or without disruption of service, is not guaranteed.

In the fluctuating conditions of the Middle East, it is not clear what reaction Iran’s naval ventures will get.  Last year there was a US aircraft carrier in the immediate vicinity when the Iranian warships went through the Red Sea and Eastern Med.  This year there is not.  The US naval presence is relatively distant from the Eastern Med: two carriers in the Persian Gulf/Arabian Sea area; a BMD cruiser (USS Vella Gulf, CG-72) currently in the Black Sea; a couple of destroyers on antipiracy patrol off Somalia.  We do not now maintain a deterrent, sea-control naval presence in the Med.

Would the nations of the region shrug off the Iranian naval deployment if it went further than Jeddah?  Do those nations – Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Israel – see a need to decide on a “post-American” posture on this matter now?  We don’t know yet.  The warships may turn around in the Red Sea this time.  But that day is coming.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air’s Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, and The Weekly Standard online.


11 thoughts on “Iranian warships make second port call in Saudi Arabia”

  1. There is little the Iranian navy can do short of major interdiction of shipping through either the Strait of Hormuz or the Suez canal. In either case, it would be an act of war, which would demand an appropriate military response.

    What the Iranians may be doing is preparatory work, once they have the bomb they may believe they can act with impunity. A false assumption, given the importance of oil transported through those avenues.

    Rather than a direct approach however, Iran may see naval port calls as increasing its prestige within the M.E. so as to maximize its influence and prestige within the Ummah, in anticipation of when they do acquire nuclear weapons capability. Iran’s acquisition of nuclear capability is bound to have a profound effect upon Middle Eastern perceptions and calculations, for within the tribal psychology of the M.E., nothing is respected more than sheer power.

    Iran’s mullah’s have made no secret of their desire to create an Iranian led alliance, in effect to reinstate the Caliphate, but this time it will be a Caliphate armed with nukes. It’s obvious that, that is their end game geo-political goal and so far they are well on their way toward achieving that desired outcome.

  2. A friendly port call at Jeddah? Saud’s are playing both sides in the more than 50% chance that the U.S. would “cut and run.”

    U.S. companies do have manufacturing interests (oil refining and petrochemicals) in the area at both Jeddah and Yanbu with several 50/50 JV’s with the Sauds.

  3. Once upon a time there were power centers many. When the Empire fades, there will be power centers many again. Iran is a natural. Hope nobody does anything stupid, ’cause Iran can’t be stopped. But stopped from what, ultimately? 10 or 12 guys want a Caliphate and the rest just want lives without sanctions.

  4. Back in 1983 I was introduced to Navy Logistics. Rude shock that it was since the whole byzantine thing was run from several commands, that never spoke to one another, and more often than not didn’t care much or one another. SPCC, NAVILCO, NAVSEA, NAVSUPP, NAVELEX, NAVAIR.. I had several hundred volumes (paper) of APL, EPL, and MPL manuals in my office for something like 2 PCG and 4 PGG class gunboats and assorted odd landingcraft and a small minesweeper for which I had only the books that I needed.

    Shore based supplies (non-classified) for the Royal Saudi Navy.

    So, for more than a year I worked with officers, NCOs, and civilians who operated the program. I requisitioned stuff, got the job because I knew TSO and ISPF so that I could edit the various process files for the computerized supply database.

    Everybody talks around dead head clerks looking up MLC NSN, digging up odd parts that don’t qualify for NSN status, and such. So, like they say “you hear things”.

    The biggest thing that I got out of the various conversations, and some that I even got to ask a few questions about was that the Saudis were good when they wanted to be, loyal when the money was good, and more than anything else merchants looking to make sure that their markets stayed open.

    It wasn’t an insult, or meant to be from the Ensign, but his take on the whole thing was that the House of Saud and Saudi Arabia was a big trading family syndicate (the Ensign was from northern Jersey…. everything looked like a syndicate to him…) The Saudis would stay friendly and basically not play the double game, or go over the wire as long as they felt like we were going to be on their side, and make it worth their while, capice?

    Well O Bummer is weak, and withdrawing from our forward Iran bracketing bases… so the House of Saud will begin to play the double game, and cut its deals with whoever it feels will be the most direct threat to the royal family and the family’s business.

    Well, I might not like it much, but I can’t blame them, either. They most certainly don’t have the army or the long term equipment to go to war with the Iranians… The Saudis also have other problems. They play a double game with all of the terrorist groups, AQ, Hamas, Hezbollah, etc. Sort of like the old New York Democrat Pols played the double games with the various gangs.

    It is basic survival in an extremely corrupt system, and it will get worse as Iran finally gets its bombs built, and the Pakistanis lose theirs to Iranian backed organizations.

    At some point, Saudi Arabia will be faced with a nuclear armed Iran with a Taliban/Pakistan ally who also is similarly armed. Meanwhile the US will have run, tail tucked between its legs (their impression and the Iranians) for “Fortress America”.

    So.. its doing what it knows to do. It’s cutting a deal.

    Things are going to get much worse. Fortress America does not exist. Or borders are wide open; our ports are too busy to inspect anything much, and our companies manufacture little here.

    10 containers…. 10 bond yards… that’s all it wil take.


  5. Business is business. When both sides interests coincide, there is profit for each. When a business partner starts to forget what brought the two parties together, trouble begins.
    Each party can understand the other parties interests, based on business and security fundamentals.
    When those parameters change and one party expects the other to work against their own interests because they are “friends”, the partnership breaks down. Suddenly the parties are distrustful and speak in terms of right and wrong, morality if you will.
    They have oil, we want it. They need protection, they expect it. All the rest of the conversation is just “process to make it happen.”
    As far as the Iranians are concerned. Never underestimate the stupidity of tin pot dictators to overplay their hands. Please remember the run up to the 2nd Iraq war. The news media and talking heads spent months trying to interpret the misguided and frankly stupid acts and proclamations of Hussein. He was hiding in a hole and was hanged.He was a stupid bully that liked to kill people. The Iranian leadership factions are much the same, except that God is telling them to do it.
    I think the Navy will answer their prayers before it is over with. Probably a few licks for Chair Force for good measure.
    Let the hand wringing begin.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: