The Eastern Mediterranean is in a state of cold war but there is every indication that it could soon hot up. Recent reports of planned naval military manoeuvres by China, Russia, Iran in conjunction with Syria have been denied. What has been confirmed however, is the mobilisation of carriers and other warships to the Syrian coast.
Two Iranian warships, a destroyer and a supply ship, were permitted to enter the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal in February, and last month a Chinese carrier joined the vessels in the area.
Russia is reported to have dispatched a naval flotilla led by the Russian destroyer, Admiral Chabanenko to cover delivery by a Russian freighter of rebuilt Russian Mi-25 attack helicopters. Syria had purchased the rebuilt helicopters, but an earlier attempt to send them was blocked in June off Scotland’s coast. Russian Defence Ministry spokesman, Vyacheslav Dzirkaln has made clear that Moscow will tolerate no interference in its traffic with Damascus. “The fleet will be sent on task to guarantee the safety of our ships, to prevent anyone interfering with them in the event of a blockade. “I remind you,” he warned, “there are no limits.”
Britain and France have announced that by the end of summer the two naval forces will conduct joint naval exercises codenamed “Puma 12” in the Eastern Mediterranean close to the Syrian coastline. Among them will be the French “De Gaulle” aircraft carrier, and the UK’s most advanced “fortress” amphibious assault ships. The Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier will be escorted by 10 warships, including an attack submarine. Naval forces will participate in joint exercises including amphibious landing on “enemy territory”.
Russia’s involvement is primarily about preserving port rights to Russia’s only Mediterranean naval port at Tartus, while also protecting the presence of 100,000 Russian “technical advisers” in Syria. Tartus is Russia’s only Mediterranean fueling spot and its only remaining military base outside the former Soviet Union. In event of a showdown with NATO, the base becomes strategic to Russia.
Putin and Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, have made clear that the consequences of military action by NATO and the USA against Assad’s Syria would be staggering.
Beijing on the other hand, is an ally of Syria, and has repeatedly blocked Western-backed Security Council attempts to increase pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down in order to bring an end to the escalating violence in that country.
Washington has frequently threatened Iran with a military strike including the use of the 14-ton bunker busters known as Massive Ordnance Penetrators (MOPs). Michael Donley, the US Air Force Secretary, said the world’s largest conventional bomb would be available to be used against Iranian nuclear sites if necessary.
In retaliation for the alleged killing of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, former UN Ambassador John Bolton egged Israel on to attack Iran saying “the time has come for the Jewish state to quit threatening and take action”.
“This is obviously a very dangerous period for Israel with the civil war in Syria, refugees reported going across the border into Lebanon, and Hezbollah well armed with rockets on Israel’s northern border,” Bolton told Fox News. “So I think if there were ever a time to retaliate, and directly against Iran this time, this is it.”
While all Israel’s surrounding nations were effectively neutralised by the “Arab Spring“, it appeared that Israel was free to carry out the long-anticipated attack against Iranian nuclear bases. The increasing threat from the naval military presence in the area has thrown this into question. Has a stalemate been reached? Will the United States and Israel go ahead with the attack, or does this cold war set the stakes too high?