Iran Working to Arm Syria and Hezbollah by Sea

Tehran prefers sea route due to recent attacks aimed at preventing it from entrenching in Syria and transferring equipment to Lebanon, Israeli officials say

A boat of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard sails next to Stena Impero, a British-flagged vessel, at Bandar Abbas port, Iran, July 21, 2019.
\ HANDOUT/ REUTERS

Iran is working to transfer weaponry to Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon by sea, to avoid assaults that have targeted arms shipments, Israeli officials believe.

According to their assessments, recent attacks, some of which attributed to Israel, that were designed to prevent Iran from entrenching itself in Syria and transferring equipment to Lebanon have led the Iranians to prefer shipping a portion of the weaponry by sea. 

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According to Israeli defense officials, despite growing tensions at sea between Iran and the United States and Britain in the Strait of Hormuz, Israel has not been directly affected. However, officials have warned of the risk that precision missiles launched by Iran or its proxies in the region could hit Israeli naval and commercial vessels.

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Iran would prefer to avoid a direct confrontation with Israel at sea due to Tehran’s interest in returning to the negotiating table to put a halt to the sanctions against the country, officials believe. These sanctions have increased since the U.S. administration's withdrawal from the international nuclear accord with Iran.

Officials also said that the Iranians would prefer that tensions not escalate into war, resorting instead to more isolated, lower-intensity incidents in which it has the upper hand, such as its seizure over the weekend in the Gulf of British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero. However, Israel is preparing for a potential escalation of the situation at sea if Iran is pushed to the wall.

Iran’s envoy to Britain on Sunday urged the U.K. to contain “domestic political forces” which he said wanted to escalate tension between the two countries amid the capture of the Stena Impero.

“U.K. government should contain those domestic political forces who want to escalate existing tension between Iran and the U.K. well beyond the issue of ships. This is quite dangerous and unwise at a sensitive time in the region,” Hamid Baeidinejad tweeted.

Concerned over Iran's significant role at sea not only in the Gulf but in the Mediterranean, too, Israeli has decided to erect a sea barrier at the military port in the southern Israeli city of Eilat, as part of the effort to protect the port. The move was also motivated by the need to halt civilian tourist naval traffic in the Gulf of Eilat.

Officials said they also currently consider Iran a threat to shipping in the Straits of Tiran, which leads to the Red Sea port of Eilat.

In recent weeks, the navy has also been considering acquiring advanced undersea defense systems to help address the threat of naval mines.

Israel is preparing to fend off attacks on vessels through unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), drones, high-speed boats and even long-range anti-ship missiles fired from land.

Israeli naval vessels are threatened regardless of Israel's superiority in the naval arena, defense officials believe, while Iran realizes that hurting Israeli vessels would lead to an Israeli response. 

No Iranian intention to enter into a direct naval conflict has been detected by Israel, leading it to presume that should Iran decide to escalate tensions in the Gulf, it would do so through its proxies - Houthis in Yemen or Hezbollah in Lebanon. These organizations possess advanced means capable of targeting Israeli naval vessels within a 300-km range. 

Reuters contributed to this report.