Syria: Update on maritime matters

Rumors of maritime shenanigans.

In a destabilizing region, the hits will come from all sides.  Egyptian authorities are confirming reports that terrorists with RPGs attacked a Panamanian-flagged cargo ship (Chinese-chartered) in the Suez Canal on 31 August (video here).  Not unnaturally, the insurance market is reacting sharply.

This is as good a time as any to deal with two reports floating in the infosphere.  One is that China has moved warships off the coast of Syria, an allegation sourced to a Russian website,

Chinese warships?  Telegrafist is an opinion blog, not a news site.  Its tone is not sensationalist; it comes across as sincere and well-intentioned, and its editorial posture can perhaps best be discerned by English readers through the observation that it features some of the work of Brandon Smith, whose Alt Market website can be reviewed here.  (Not quite Alex Jones and InfoWars: more introspection, no scare-graphics in primary colors.)

Some bloggers at Telegrafist are as convinced as some Americans that global “elites” have been planning a smack-down centered on Syria for years.  So, as to the specific reporting in the article “China sent ships of the PLA Navy to the coast of Syria”:  it’s not impossible, but I doubt it.

There are two basic data points.  One is a statement that Chinese warships are already off the coast of Syria, with the source of this information being given as a Chinese military blog, which claims to have sources inside the People’s Liberation Army.  No link is provided for the original report on this.

The other data point is from a forum at which a member posted an anonymous report from a mariner that Chinese amphibious dock ship Jinggangshan (pennant number 999) was seen in the Red Sea, apparently heading north, on an unspecified but presumably recent date.

Regarding this latter data point, I assume it’s valid.  Jinggangshan is deployed for antipiracy patrol in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea, a maritime contingency which has been serving as cover for China to put amphibious shipping in this area for some time now.  (Amphibious ships are unsuited to the antipiracy operating profile, but China keeps deploying them.  The hold of an amphibious dock transport ship can carry a lot.)

Chinese warships on antipiracy patrol have visited ports in Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Egypt, and Oman, as well as making swings through the Mediterranean on an occasional basis since 2010.  It’s still noteworthy when Chinese warships go through the Suez Canal, however, and there has been no reporting of a transit in 2013.  If Chinese warships were off the coast of Syria right now, I would expect to find reports that they had gone through the Canal.  (A Mediterranean circuit may be planned for the ships of the current antipiracy task force, which would explain Chinese military sources disclosing that PLAN ships will be going to the Med.  There’s just no evidence that it has already happened this year.)

China has no reason to put herself in the middle of a Syria crisis anyway.  She has enough to do elsewhere.  Beijing has joined forces with Moscow to defend a common political principle by blocking UN action against Syria, but that doesn’t mean China has common interests with Russia in Syria.  Bashar al-Assad is Putin’s problem.  China isn’t trying to avoid selling anyone bullets; she may well be doing so; but she certainly has no intention of getting in the way of bullets herself off the coast of Syria, if they start to fly.

Suez Canal and NATO warships.  The report has circulated that Egypt may deny use of the Canal to NATO warships, based on a call by the influential Tamarod movement for Egypt’s interim government to do that.  Even responsible opinion media have taken time to speculate on the possibility that Egypt might close the canal, or threaten to, as a means of extracting aid from Western nations.

Egypt won’t close the Canal for either reason.  Besides the Canal’s economic importance – which is only the greater when Egypt’s general economic outlook is poor, as it is today – the Egyptians administer the Canal under the terms of the Constantinople Convention of 1888.  They made the commitment to honor its provisions when the Canal was taken over and nationalized in 1956, and for the most part have done so.  Except for the Canal closure after the Six-Day War in 1967, when Egypt attacked Israel and subsequently lost the Sinai Peninsula, the Egyptians have administered the Canal neutrally as a matter of national policy, strategy, and pride.  The Constantinople Convention admits of virtually no pretexts for excluding other nations’ warships from passage.

Nor would any diplomatically conventional nation pressure Egypt to enforce such an exclusion (e.g., against Iran or North Korea).  The nations are agreed that no such precedent ought to be set; it could come back to haunt anyone if it were.  Certainly, as long as General Al-Sisi is behind the government of Egypt, the Egyptians will take no irresponsible actions regarding the Canal.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard online. She also writes for the new blog Liberty Unyielding.

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16 thoughts on “Syria: Update on maritime matters”

  1. A few addenda to your series of high quality posts

    Greece and the current Egyptian goverment are close to a deal on their respective EEZ’ s. Hopefully the byproduct of this will be to reinforce Egypt’s pro-Western trajectory and adds her to the line up of EMED countries cooperating on the extraction of regional hydrocarbons. Surely the Israelis will be pleased (and relieved) at this development. In Greece’s case the lesson is, It pays to work quietly behind the scene. Greco-Egyptian bi-lateral ties, both military and civilian, remain excellent. If only common sense could prevail in Syria, for if it did, Lebanon would fall into place also, even with Hizbollah. The hydrocarbon deposits are an excellent basis for regional cooperation. There’s plenty enough for everyone, (well, maybe not Egypt). Talk about a “rising tide lift all boats”

    Turkey unfortunately continues her fruitless destabilizing. Cyprus prepares to extract first gas.

    Hellenic-Israeli joint military exercises are scheduled to begin in the last half of Sept. I understand Cypriot territory was to be included and some of the proposed exercises are “particularly difficult”. They were scheduled before Obama’s unfortunate “red line” mishap. Whether the “red line” affects the timing, or modifies the nature of the exercise, remains to be seen.

    Btw, Have I ever told you you’re really good at this 🙂

    1. PS

      We did mention something about ties that predate even the time Mohamed walked the earth, right? The above is a good illustration of that.

      That’s the ticket to straightening out this N. Africa to Hindu Kush mess. Optcon, More of this please.

      Reinforce the historic, cultural and economic ties that bind, and, defeat the current dominant faith’s radicals. Discredit its leading advocates (al-Qaeda, MB, etc).

      You might not agree with me on this, but that means going after the prime financiers of the various incarnations of the radical Sunni branch of Islam first. That isn’t Iran btw, it’s most, not all, of the Gulf petro-monarchies either acting as official or private actors. Doesn’t it raise eyebrows in DC that they essentially, and overtly, offered to turn the US Armed Forces into a mercenary army of Sunni Islam in Syria? Who is the vassal in this case?

      Tthis is no easy task. But until we realize it, our regional policy boils down to undoing with the one hand, what we make with the other hand.

  2. Watching Obama’s press conference in St P.

    By the looks of things, he’s been advised to take his case on Syria “to the people” cause it looks like they don’t got the votes in congress.

    He’s trying awfully hard to persuade on the validity of his position.

    If the vote finally is no. I hope he knows how to take NO for an answer.

    And. Hey, what happened to the first part of my last comment?

    1. Unfortunately our president is trying to find a graceful way to walk away from his mis-applied red line comment. It sounds like he has no hope of getting the votes – it will be a bipartisan rejection.

      1. To observers who are truly objective (and not deluded, brainwashed by, or beholden to, special interest and ideology) the rejection, if it happens in the congress, is a triumph of the long suffering, ignored, war weary public and American principles of government. Nothing short of a ray of light in the darkness.

        Ironically we will have to then thank the president for making his defeat possible.

        1. “a triumph of the long suffering, ignored, war weary public and American principles of government.”
          Long suffering? How many meals have you missed due to US military activity in remote parts of the world? Are you spending nights in a foxhole out in the woods? Wearing jeans with holes in the knees because the government has sent your good pants to Iraq? While you’re probably ignored, how can you, or any other member of the general public, be “war weary” (another example of the universal penchant for alliteration, see also “road rage”)? Maybe you’re full up to your Adam’s apple with media coverage of America’s expensive but fruitless foreign follies but is it making you “weary”, like packing bucket after bucket of water up from the creek for the washing would?

          The American principles of government? What exactly would those principles be? And wouldn’t those principles, if they actually existed, be kind of immutable? Or would they change from day to day, according to the war weary public’s response to the latest flack from the super ad agency in D.C.?

          1. CM. I might have overstated it a bit.

            We’re a military family, I don’t like having to state that. The tiny sliver of the population that’s got skin in the game. So, justifiably or not, I figure I can bitch a little more than most folks, being that we are gonna bear the brunt of this.

            If it is a go, fine. Although, I’d prefer it to be for the right reasons.

    2. jgets — any comment with more than one hyperlink in it goes to moderation. (Early on, I tried allowing 2 links through, but the spam was just too much.)

      I note that this happens even with MY comments. At any rate, sorry about that; artifact of blog management.

  3. JEM — you may well be right about the bipartisan rejection. I would be extremely concerned about launching a military operation under Obama’s leadership; that said, it will not be a victory if Congress and the people shut the president down. Either outcome would be an unqualified own goal.

    There are no good outcomes here; there is only an outcome that would probably minimize risk to US troops in the short run. All things considered, I have to go with that one. But it’s only slightly less terrible than the outcome that invites a bigger conflict, through Team Obama’s wrong priorities and carelessness. Minimizing our risk in the short term gives us only this: saving our pennies for the much bigger test we WILL have to face in the future, once our president is exposed as completely impotent.

    1. Clearly Obama is in save my own hide mode. See if I can get someone else to either go in with me or (foolishly) give me someone to blame.

      There is a point where incompetence gets deadly – as if Benghazi wasn’t enough.

      I am hopeful that the next president can manage a way to extract ourselves from the foreign policy nightmare Obama will be leaving them.

  4. I know I ain’t gonna make any “friends” with this one. Anyway.

    I hear the Jewish/Israel lobby is pinch hitting big time for Barry in congress to secure a “YES, BOMB NOW, What boots on the ground? shh!… we’ll deal with that ‘boots’ issue later”, congressional vote on intervention in Syria. That’s a fact.

    The ENTIRE U.S.of A. is against that. It’s a NO GO. That’s a fact.

    Err, how much is Adelson & Co, yeah MITT’S Adelson, forking out on getting out that yes vote? How much time and effort is AIPAC putting into supporting Barry? Yeah, we’re talkin’ bout the same “election 2012” Barak Hussein (anathema to Israel, actually to Likud) Obama. What’s going on here folks? Whatever it is, it ain’t realpolitik, it’s obscene.

    So much for supposedly moral arguments, principles, ethics, US national interest, OUR SONS, DAUGHTERS, MOTHERS, FATHERS, other assorted sundry goods and anything else folks more eloquent (and smarter) than yours truly can describe. This is brazen racial power politics.

    Just “my tribe, is worth more than anything else, right or wrong” logic. Raw, harsh ,cold, eyebrow raisin’ comment…but true.

    It’s a Happy new year message for future American “boots on the ground”. Boots that too many foreign interests assume are their mercenaries.

    The neocon/liberal interventionist alliance wants another war. Wake up folks. Ya, can’t downplay that fact, or, shove it under the rug.

    Btw, anybody bother to look at the recent jump in the price of crude oil?

    Obese Saudi Aayrabia, has already covered the cost of the Tomahawks they were willing to bankroll from profits on (fixed)betting on the spread of crude.

    Sorry folks. Someone’s gotta bring this stuff up.

    Y’all can begin the obligatory (and Biblically sanctioned) pelt the heretic with stones ritual now.

    Anytime yer ready 🙂

  5. “Jewish/Israel lobby”? Come on, jgets. Jewish pundits in the US are all over the map on this one, as are non-Jewish pundits. ADL is getting a lot of blowback from Jewish pundits for endorsing Obama’s plan. In fact, plenty of them make exactly the case a lot of others are making: that intervening against Assad would amount only to acting on behalf of al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, and that would be a colossal mistake.

    Jewish members of Congress are by no means united behind a Syria intervention. They’re getting the same feedback from their districts, which may or may not have significant Jewish populations, that the rest of Congress is getting.

    The Israelis are ambivalent, meanwhile, and by no means united on what THEY hope America does or doesn’t do in Syria.

    The strongest voices for intervention in the US Senate are John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both Mod 1/Mark 0 Scots-Irish Christians. To suggest that either is “in the pocket” of a sinister Jewish/Israel lobby would be psychotic, which I’m sure is why you haven’t suggested it. They are both credentialed members of a longstanding Republican school of foreign-policy activism, which has nothing to do with “Jewish” lobbying.

    Obama’s main influences on Syria, meanwhile, have been Samantha Power, John Kerry, and Susan Rice, each of whom has reasons quite other than “Israel” for advocating some kind of action against Assad. I have written many times about Team Obama’s fantastical, ideological view of the world and its workings, and from their public comments, it’s obvious that that is a major factor at work here.

    It is crystal clear, on the other hand, that this whole thing has developed without any particular influence from Jewish or pro-Israel lobbying.

    1. You are right of course. But, when events seem as if they are tilting out of balance, it is good to overcompensate in the other direction on occasion, to redress that balance.

      It also helps bring out your lucid reasoning on the subject.

  6. Sergei and Vladimir save the day?

    Proposal to control Syrian chemical weapons stockpile looks like it might take hold. Cross your fingers.

    From Russia, with love 🙂

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