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Israel & Iran: Together on the Red Sea

Samara Greenberg

Israel added two more warships to its permanent naval presence in the Red Sea, the military announced Tuesday, as part of a plan to reinforce the area following intelligence warnings that militants in the Sinai are planning another attack along Israel’s border with Egypt. Earlier this week, Israel’s military ordered more forces to the border and agreed to let Egypt deploy thousands of troops into the Sinai to try and secure the desert area, which is to be demilitarized according to the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.

Meanwhile, Iran’s state-run Press TV reported Tuesday that Tehran will dispatch its 15th fleet, comprised of a submarine and several warships, to the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. According to Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, the Iranian Navy plans to have “an active presence in the high seas…with the purpose of serving the country’s interests. The presence of Iran’s army in the high seas will convey the message of peace and friendship to all countries,” he added. According to reports, the Iranian warships will also focus on “fighting piracy.”

This isn’t the first time Iran is sending warships to the region. In February, after the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Iran sent two warships through the Suez Canal and to Syria for the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that ended Iranian-Egyptian ties. Only three months later, Tehran reportedly sent submarines to the Red Sea “with the goal of collecting information and identifying other countries’ combat vessels,” sparking concern in Israel that the subs were there to gather intelligence and track Israeli naval operations. Israel is also concerned that Iranian ships in the area will accompany weapons shipments to Lebanon and Gaza in the future.

While Israel’s beefed-up security is clearly for preventative reasons, considering the recent attack on its southern border followed by over 100 rocket strikes from Gaza, Iran’s move is nothing of the sort. Rather than “convey the message of peace and friendship,” Iran’s warships and submarines so close to Israeli territory are a clear provocation. Tehran has consistently illustrated its desire to be a regional superpower, and that is exactly how its latest strategic moves should be viewed.