by Austin Bay
February 22, 2011
2011's great cascade of Arab rebellions continues, and evenChina's oligarchs are feeling its effects. Libya may be next. Meanwhile, backin Iran, the rebellions have energized the opposition Green Movement. Iran'sKhomeinist dictators have placed its leaders under house arrest.
As this astonishing spring proceeds, Iran's clerical tyrantshave also ordered an Iranian naval task force to sail the Mediterranean Sea forthe first time since the 1979 Iranian revolution.
On Feb. 22, the task force, consisting of two warships --the frigate Alvand and support ship Kharg -- entered the Suez Canal. Iranmaintains its warships are training their crews to protect Iranian ships fromSomali pirates -- but their destination is Syria.
What does Iran intend to do with its Great Fright Fleet?
If sending the fleet through Suez is supposed to probeEgypt's post-Mubarak relationship with Israel, so far the result is very murky.As a diplomatic maneuver signaling Iran's commitment to its Syrian or LebaneseHezbollah clients, the fleet's cruise is gutsy, but its technology is feeble.Iran can show its flag, but its flag flies from the masts of rust-buckets. Thewarships do not present a meaningful threat to shipping. The frigate carriesanti-ship missiles and torpedoes. Its life expectancy in a naval engagementwith Israeli or NATO air-sea forces is desperately short.
Tehran regularly threatens Israel with the holocaust ofnuclear destruction. The Israelis allegedly deploy submarines in waters nearIran. The Iranian task force sends the message that Iran might eventually placevessels carrying missiles with nuclear or chemical warheads in the Med -- whichwould complicate Israeli missile defense efforts.
Delivering weapons to Syria or to Lebanon's Hezbollah is agrim possibility. An Israeli intelligence website (Debkafile) claims theKharg's cargo includes weapons for Hezbollah.
Hezbollah rocket attacks kicked off the 2006Israeli-Hezbollah war, so more rockets present a genuine threat to Israel. Ifthe Kharg offloads weapons, and the Israelis don't respond, Hezbollah getsmunitions. If the Israelis do respond, the world will be swamped with headlinesaccusing the Israelis of aggression.
The global television news orgasm will last at least acouple of weeks. Iran will portray itself as the frontline Muslim stateconfronting Israel. Here's Tehran's big message: Let's forget about thisdemocracy ruckus and create a united front (led by the Khomeinists, of course)to defeat the Israelis, our common enemy.
In this respect, Iran's Great Fright Fleet is an attempt tochange the subject. The warships are an information warfare task force. Theirmission is strategic information diversion.
By baiting Israel into launching a military attack -- infront of television cameras -- the Khomeinists seek to divert attention fromthe Arab democratic rebellions. They also seek to affect the course of thoserebellions by providing militant Islamists with an immensely powerfulpropaganda weapon and emotionally inflammatory imagery. They also see adomestic payoff. An Israeli attack on an Iranian warship would ignite Iraniannationalists. This would stymie (at least temporarily) the regime's internalopposition.
Those are the Khomeinists' goals. The results, however, arenot guaranteed -- not in the extraordinary spring of 2011.
Still, the Israelis face a predicament. Given the regionalunrest, just observing the fleet's Syrian and Lebanese activities may be thewisest of bad choices. Offloaded rockets can be dealt with later.
That's not the case if the fleet chooses a riskier port ofcall: Gaza. If the Khomeinists really want to bait the Israelis into reacting,the fleet could reprise the May 2010 Gaza aid flotilla gambit, this time uppingthe ante by employing warships.
Would the Israelis stop a Gaza foray by Iranian navalvessels?
The outcome? Iran will get headlines. As for the crews ofthe Alvand and the Kharg? Khomeinists will tout them as martyrs. Old salts willbe more pragmatic: They got a permanent trip to Davy Jones' locker.