While last week the focus of US naval deployment in the Middle East emphasized securing the Suez Canal in the midst of the Egyptian revolution, this week the developing story is the passage of two Iranian warships through this very canal. Not surprisingly, two US naval groups - an aircraft carrier and a big-deck amphibious warfare ship - are now situated at either end of the Red Sea, where the Iranian flotilla is supposedly located. Will the US presence be enough to prevent escalation? Since we believe that Iran has few alternatives to pulling a "wag the dog" scenario with increasing domestic protests, and an increasingly more troubled ruling class, perhaps the increased US presence in the area is geared more toward dissuading a preemptive engagement by Israel. Regardless, expect posturing to increase as Iran is now stuck in a position from which it can only lose face if it does not at least pursue the symbolic passage of the Suez canal. What happens after is unclear.
And here is the formal passage request received by Egypt:
The Egyptian government has received a request from Iran to allow two of its navy ships to pass through the Suez Canal, according to media reports Thursday. "We received a request this afternoon for two Iranian warships to pass through the Suez Canal. We have not yet approved it," Hossam Zaki, a Foreign Ministry spokesman told the Wall Street Journal. The decision to permit passage to the ships will be made by the military which currently runs the country in the wake of President Hosni Mubarak's resignation last week, the reports said. Israel has condemned Iran's plan to deploy warships to Syria as a "serious provocation.