Published February 24, 2011
DAMASCUS, Syria — A witness said two Iranian warships docked in Syria on Thursday, completing a voyage that has raised tensions with Israel during a time of upheaval in the Middle East.
The ships arrived at Syria's Latakia seaport, after sailing through the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean — the first such trip in at least three decades. A witness confirmed the ships' arrival, but asked that his name not be used because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The chief of Iran's navy, Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, said the frigate Alvand and the supply ship Kharq are in Syria for a training mission. He rejected Israeli criticism that the trip was provocative.
Iran's foray into the Mediterranean came as the Middle East was reeling from an unprecedented wave of anti-government rebellions. Some observers said the voyage through the Suez Canal was as a test of Egypt, which is the gatekeeper of the strategic waterway that links the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.
Egypt's new military rulers, who took power from ousted President Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11, appeared to have no choice but to allow the passage. An international convention regulating shipping says the canal must be open "to every vessel of commerce or of war."
Analysts believe Iran wanted to see whether Egypt's new rulers will stick to the pro-Western line of the Mubarak government. Some said the voyage also signals that Iran is ready to come to the aid of regional allies, including Syria and Iranian proxies Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.