After nothing happened last night, following Egypt's statement that it had not received a request to allow Iranian warships through the canal, PressTV has just announced that an Iran Navy official says the 2 warships are in fact on their way to the Canal and will pass shortly. Per Reuters, "the Iran state TV says Egypt sees nothing wrong with passage of Iranian warships through Suez Canal." The vessels in question are the Alvand frigate and the Kharg, a supply vessel.
Photo of the Alvand:
Look for kneejerk reaction in crude.
Some more perspectives from Information Dissemination:
The two Iranian ships are the corvette Alvand and supply ship Kharg, both pictured in this blog post. The Alvand
is the flagship of the Iranian Navy. Displacing around 1,500 tons, the
ship comes armed with 4 C-802 anti-ship missiles, a 4.5in gun, torpedo
launchers, and various smaller machine guns and mortars. The US Navy has
seen this class of ship before, in battle. During Operation Preying
Mantis in 1988, the Iranian corvette Sabalan was left paralyzed and on fire from a 500 lb bomb from an A-6, while another pair of A-6s crippled the Sahand where she later sunk southwest of Larak Island following a Harpoon strike from the USS Joseph Strauss (DDG-16). For the sake of symmetry, I'll note the A-6s involved in Operation Preying Mantis that slapped around the sister ships of Alvand were from the VA-95 "Green Lizards" and flown off none other than the USS Enterprise (CVN 65).
The Iranian flagship Alvand is not a naval threat to anyone in the region, and is not why Israel is raising concern. The ship has terrible anti-air capabilities that are no match against the capabilities of the Egyptian Air Force, the Royal Saudi Air Force, the Israeli Air Force, or Carrier Air Wing One on the USS Enterprise (CVN 65). While the media portrayal of the Iranian Navy near the Suez is one of distressing concern, the reality is that corvette represents the biggest regional target at sea for thousands of nautical miles. The media may describe the presence of the Iranian corvette in the context of doubt, fear, and concern; but given Israel's outrage and tendency to be trigger happy - allow me to suggest the scariest place to be in the Red Sea today is anywhere near that ship. I note the irony between how the news narrative represents a complete disconnect between perception and reality.
Speaking of Israeli concern, assuming it is legitimate and not parochial; it likely has to do with the supply ship Kharg and not the corvette Alvand.
The supply ship Kharg is much more interesting. The Kharg is the largest ship in the Iranian Navy displacing around 33,000 tons and is a modified Olwen class fast fleet tanker. This is a big ship, and with the current tensions between Israel and Hezbollah, Israel is likely very concerned about what the ship is carrying. As a Navy ship rather than a commercial ship, the ship will not be searched for cargo so the concern by the Israeli's is that the ship could carry weapons to Syria where weapons can be unloaded and sent to Lebanon. There are rumors that go back several years that the Kharg has been often been observed in the Gulf of Aden delivering weapons from Iran to destinations like Eritrea and the Sudan.
If you follow the Wikileaks cables you will note that this known arms
smuggling connection between Iran and Eritrea was how the Government of
Yemen believed the Houthis were being armed, although the cables
actually reveal that is not how the Houthis are being armed based on
Are the Israeli's being paranoid? Probably not. The Kharg is the best choice of vessel to move substantial arms from Iran to Hezbollah quickly and without harassment. It is around 2,150nm from Bandar Abbas, Iran to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - where these Iranian ships made port last week. While I understand that a little corvette might have to make stops every few thousand nautical miles - even a corvette with the range of the Alvand - why does a fast fleet tanker like Kharg need a fill up after only a few thousand miles travel?
Probably because the tanker is carrying more than fuel.
What To Do
The Israeli's can get trigger happy in a hurry, so I have no idea what they will do. However, I noted with interest that PJ Crowley described the US position on the presence of the Iranian ships approaching the Suez Canal as one of "curiosity." OK, I buy that, I'm certainly curious as well. But the real question is what if anything should the United States do?
Well, if you are the US it depends if you think the Israel will attack the ships. If you do think Israel is going to get trigger happy, we should do nothing. However, if the US does not believe the Israeli's are going to attack the Iranian ships, this is what I believe the US should do.
It is more than a little disturbing to me that a ~1,500 ton Iranian corvette built in 1971 with 4 ASMs and no air defenses escorted by an old oil tanker can send the price of US oil up 1.8% for simply sailing on the ocean. Iran just significantly shifted an economic market in the US with a piece of shit corvette even though the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) was literally right there. Think about that a second...
An increase of 1.8% comes to $.67 per bbl of oil, and the United States uses 21,000,000 bbls of oil per day. That means that through soft power presence alone the Iranian Navy flagship, which by every modern naval standard is nothing more than a ~1,500 ton unrated corvette with a questionably trained crew and supported an old tanker, and yet the Iranian Navy just sent a $14 million shiver down the spine of the energy economy of the United States. To add insult to injury, that bump in oil cost could potentially sustain itself for several days while the Iranian Navy operates in that region.
How do we reconcile the ability of an Iranian corvette half way around the world to influence a US economic market with the rhetoric by the United States Navy leadership who attempts to link US naval power with US economy? How can observers not draw the conclusion that investors in this country have lost all association with American naval power and the sustainability of regional peace when an Iranian corvette can make this kind of economic impact while operating right next to a US aircraft carrier strike group? Investors in the US oil futures market must not even associate US naval power as a deterrent to economic disruption when oil shoots up 1.8% based on presence alone, and in this case the US naval power present is a carrier strike group. Is this a matter of stupidity or ignorance on the part of the investors, or does this say something about the US Navy's ability to articulate it's own value to the nation?
So, clearly the Navy has a communication problem... How can the US Navy address this? Well, if I was given 5-star rank for a day I would sail my Arleigh Burke class destroyer along side the Iranian Navy flagship for a "wave and hello" and take a photograph of the two ships side by side while underway. I realize that strategic communication is a forgotten, and perhaps lost art in the US Navy, but if you put a photograph on Navy.mil with the two warships in near proximity that illustrates the sheer size difference between the flagship of the Iranian Navy and a US Navy Arleigh Burke class destroyer, I will predict that the unofficial PASSEX is worth several thousand words to a great many reporters and Americans while also being a photograph worth about $14 million in savings to the US energy economy a day.