Did they dock in Syria, or didn’t they? Last week, two Iranian war ships, a destroyer and a supply ship, passed through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean. According to Iran’s government, they docked in the Syrian port of Tartus. According to the U.S. government, they did no such thing.
More specifically, on Saturday Iran’s state-owned PressTV reported that the two Iranian vessels had docked in the Syrian port of Tartus. On Tuesday, a Pentagon spokesman, George Little, told the press, “We have absolutely no indication whatsoever the Iranian ships ever docked in Syrian ports.”
What’s going on here? One day there are two Iranian ships docking in Syria. Three days later, it seems that, like the Flying Dutchman, they never made port. Whatever they did during their swing through the eastern Mediterranean, they are now reported as having left the area, heading back through the Suez Canal.
These are not phantoms, or flyspecks invisible to the hi-tech eye. These are ships, substantial objects, which the U.S. certainly has the ability to track. I can’t claim to know what actually happened, and, alas, I have no inside sources here. So this is pure speculation. But it sounds as if the Iranian ships were indeed heading for Tartus, and then ran into some reason to back off — leaving the Iranian government to bluster that the ships had docked, rather than admit they’d chickened out.
If so, what might have blocked those ships? We know this much: There was no “Freedom Flotilla” launched from, say, Turkey, to try to deflect the arrival of Iranian war ships potentially stuffed with supplies for the terror-sponsoring regime of Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad, now using heavy weapons against his own people. There was no naval blockade mandated by, say, the United Nations, where China and Russia are now blocking any Security Council resolution on Syria. There was no grand effort put forth by the combined naval forces of the Arab League.
Assuming that something, or someone, intervened in some way to persuade those ships to wave off, that was good work. I’d like to think that the deciding factor was a sharp warning from the U.S. — though if that was the case, it would have been far better had America found a way to deter Iran before those ships ever entered the Suez Canal. Or, as with too many showdowns on the front lines of Tehran’s aggression, was the job, and the risk, left to the Israelis?
And if the Tartus docking was an Iranian lie, it does not obviate the fact that Iran’s regime felt free to send war ships through the Suez Canal for the second time in a year, and this time felt free to boast they’d docked in Syria. Within the propaganda fog are real ships, real guns, real threats. What next?