TEHRAN (AFP) – Two Iranian warships sailing in the Mediterranean Sea in an act that prompted Israel to put its navy on high alert are due to dock at the Syrian port of Latakia Thursday, news agency IRNA said.
The Iranian agency quoted Iran’s naval commander, Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayari, as saying that the mission to transit the Suzel Canal and sail to Syria had been accomplished without regard for Israeli concerns.
“The Zionist regime may create concern for itself and look at this issue from its own view but we will carry out our plans regardless of this regime and in coordination with the friendly nation in the region,” Sayari said.
“The trip of our warships to the Syrian port of Latakia is an ordinary visit of the navy and carried the message of peace and friendship,” IRNA quoted him as saying from Damascus, where he arrived on Wednesday.
Sayari denied media reports that the ships, the first Iranian vessels to transit the Suez Canal since the 1979 Islamic revolution, will be involved in any military drills.
“A number of Iranian navy cadets are present and they are on a long training voyage,” he said.
The two ships transited the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean on Tuesday, prompting Israel to warn it would respond immediately to any “provocation” as it put its navy on high alert.
The 1,500-tonne Alvand is normally armed with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles, while the larger 33,000-tonne Kharg has a crew of 250 and facilities for up to three helicopters, Iran’s official Fars news agency has said.
Neither ship is carrying chemical or nuclear material, Egypt’s state-run MENA news agency has reported.
On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the ships’ arrival in the region as an Iranian power play, just days after his Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, branded their voyage “a provocation.”
A senior Israeli security source told AFP Israel would “not initiate any action” against the Iranian vessels, but if the Iranians deviated in any way that could be considered “a provocation” there would be an “immediate Israeli response.”
Iran’s main nemesis, the United States, said this week it is “watching carefully” the movements of the two ships.
“We continue to monitor the movements of these ships and their actions,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said. “We will be watching carefully to see where these ships go and the implications of that.”
The NATO military alliance too said it was monitoring the ships.
Both ships were built in Britain during the 1970s for Iran, which ordered them before the Islamic revolution.
Their passage into the eastern Mediterranean comes as the Arab world and the Middle East grapples with a vast wave of unrest and protests that is radically changing the political landscape, and leaving Israel increasingly concerned about its security.