The Jerusalem Post (Link) - Contribution by Yaakov Katz (February 26, 2011)
Iran and Syria have agreed to cooperate on naval training, Reuters reported Iran’s official news agency saying on Saturday.
“The two parties will cooperate with each other in training issues and the exchange of personnel,” the Iranian news agency quoted the agreement, signed by the commanders of both navies, as saying.
The agreement came days after two Iranian warships – the Khark, which has 250 crew members and can carry three helicopters, and the Alvand, which is armed with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles – arrived at Syria’s Latakia seaport on Thursday through the Suez Canal.
The announcement of the cooperation agreement came the same day that Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said that Russia would fulfill its contractual obligation and complete the transfer of cruise missiles to Syria, according to an AFP report. The report said that news agencies in Moscow said the Kremlin did not intend to withdraw from the deal signed between the two countries in 2007, despite the objections of Israel and the United States.
Sources at the Defense Ministry said on Saturday night that they were aware of the missile deal between Russia and Syria. The sources said they have repeatedly warned Russian officials at all levels that the missiles could be used as offensive weapons and may eventually end up in the hands of Hezbollah.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Thursday, that the two Iranian naval vessels crossing the Suez Canal was a show of power and part of a “wider scheme” to exert influence in the Middle East. The ships’ crossing was the first time the Islamic Republic has sent a naval convoy through the Suez Canal in over three decades.
“I don’t like it, but I don’t think that any one of us should be worried by it,” Barak said.
The defense minister commented that Iran was trying to assert their power in the region by sending ships to the Syrian port, and that the move was nothing more than them “projecting...self-confidence and certain assertiveness in the region.”
Despite reports that Iran may have been bringing advanced weaponry to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Barak suggested that the focus of the trip is for Iranian cadets to visit Syria. †