The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Israel prepares for ground invasion of Iran

That got your attention, didn't it?

Well it's just as ridiculous as stories from the London Times (which I use to work for and whose publication of this kind of alarmist stories I lament as one more evidence of the decay associated with being owned by Rupert Murdoch) such as this one:

Israeli navy in Suez Canal prepares for potential attack on Iran

Sheera Frenkel in Jerusalem

Two Israeli missile class warships have sailed through the Suez Canal ten days after a submarine capable of launching a nuclear missile strike, in preparation for a possible attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The deployment into the Red Sea, confirmed by Israeli officials, was a clear signal that Israel was able to put its strike force within range of Iran at short notice. It came before long-range exercises by the Israeli air force in America later this month and the test of a missile defence shield at a US missile range in the Pacific Ocean

So, from the Gulf of Aqaba Israel is preparing a "potential" solo strike at Iran with two corvettes (that's what those ships are, they are not destroyers or cruisers, they are for coastal defense and perhaps missile defense) and one submarine (they don't carry much ammo). Right.

Now more worrying but, since it's cast in this article, pretty untrustworthy are the following:

The exercises come at a time when Western diplomats are offering support for an Israeli strike on Iran in return for Israeli concessions on the formation of a Palestinian state.

If agreed it would make an Israeli strike on Iran realistic “within the year” said one British official.

Diplomats said that Israel had offered concessions on settlement policy, Palestinian land claims and issues with neighboring Arab states, to facilitate a possible strike on Iran.

“Israel has chosen to place the Iranian threat over its settlements,” said a senior European diplomat.

So let's say these boats and subs are being deployed in exercises for upgraded missile defense (in case of an Iranian counter-strike after an Israeli air strike against Iran's nuclear targets and command targets like the Revolutionary Guards). I still do not think an Israeli air strike is imminent on Iran. I do think these moves may be signals: they signal Israeli cooperation with the US, Israel and (more discreetly Saudi) over looking tough on Iran. But not necessarily acting tough on Iran. This story was probably leaked to the Times (which with its Sunday paper is the worst repeat offender when it comes to publishing Mossad disinformation) to create precisely the impression of an Israel on the warpath, secure in its newly improved alliances with what might be called in Tehran "the Sunni axis" of Cairo-Riyadh.

In the meantime, I wonder how long we'll have to wait for Iran-allied media outlets to talk about Israeli ships being within target range of Mecca. Or for al-Qaeda to point to Egypt allowing Israeli warships to cross the Suez Canal as a recruitment tool for, er, blowing up ships crossing the Suez Canal. (Also check out al-Ahram Weekly.)

Haaretz offers a much saner analysis of the ships crossing the Suez Canal, btw, even if it and the Israeli media have continued to inflate the anti-Iranian "Cairo is our new best friend" line:

It therefore seems unlikely that Israel would have embarked on such a public maneuver now - the ships were easily visible from the shore - on a day when diplomats from the Nonaligned Movement were holding a conference in Egypt's Red Sea resort town of Sharm al-Sheikh, in the Sinai Peninsula - without prior coordination with Cairo.

Though neither side says so publicly, there is ongoing security coordination between Israel and Egypt, which could be expanded if necessary in the future.

Israel has an interest in a naval presence in the Red Sea for two reasons: the effort to halt arms smuggling from Iran to the Gaza Strip - which, according to international media reports, mainly takes place by sea from Iran to Sudan, and then overland via Egypt, and the effort to bolster its deterrence against Iran in the event of a direct conflict breaking out.

In March, American media outlets reported that Israel Air Force jets had attacked a large arms convoy heading from Sudan toward Gaza two months earlier.

The passage through Suez significantly shortens the time it would take Israel Navy ships to reach the Persian Gulf as compared to the only alternative - going all the way around Africa. Because Israel's submarines, according to foreign reports, are armed with missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, a shorter Israeli route to Iran may worry the regime in Tehran.

Cairo vs. Tehran

Tuesday's voyage also reflects two broader Middle Eastern developments - Cairo's open opposition to Iran, especially following the discovery of a Hezbollah spy network operating in Egypt, and a decline in Iran's regional status due to mass demonstrations against the disputed results of its presidential election last month.

The Sa'ar 5 gunboats are the most advanced in the Israel Navy, capable of attacking several targets on land, at sea and undersea simultaneously, even from fairly long distances. While small naval patrol boats regularly patrol the Gulf of Eilat, at the northern tip of the Red Sea, submarines and Sa'ar 5 gunboats both usually stay in the Mediterranean Sea. The presence of either in the Red Sea is very rare.