Russia, Israel turn up heat in Mediterranean Sea
MOSCOW / JERUSALEM
This file photo shows Russia’s Admiral Chabanenko destroyer near Havana. Admiral Chabanenko joins four ships headed to Tartus after passing Turkey’s Dardanelles. AFP photo
Russia and Israel became the latest powers after NATO’s naval deployments in the eastern Mediterranean Sea last week amid the continuing crisis over last month’s downing of a Turkish jet by the Syrian forces, with Moscow upping the ante by announcing the deployment of a destroyer to the region.
Russia has sent a naval flotilla of six warships, led by an anti-submarine destroyer, to its naval base at the Syrian port of Tartus, while Israel is separately preparing to boost the strength of its naval forces in the eastern Mediterranean in order to protect the country’s energy investments there, Israeli media reported.
Russia has also dispatched the destroyer-class warship Smetlivy, which patroled the waters off the coast of Syria in April and May, to Syria. The ship was seen leaving the Black Sea port of Sevastopol yesterday morning. “The Smetlivy is leaving for Syria today. ... The vessel is expected to reach the Turkish straits tomorrow morning,” the Navy source said on condition of anonymity.
The Admiral Chabanenko and three landing craft have left their home port of Severomorsk in the Arctic Circle on their way to the Mediterranean, where they will be joined by the Russian patrol ship Yaroslav Mudry as well as an assistance vessel, a source told Interfax agency.
Separately, four Russian warships passed the Dardanelles and sailed into the Aegean Sea yesterday, according to Doğan news agency. Turkish coastguard boats accompanied the four vessels, the Nikolai Filchenkov, the Caesar Kunikov, Caktarz and the SB-5, the report said. “The program of the voyage includes a call in the Syrian port of Tartus,” the unnamed source told the news agency in reference to the Chabanenko and accompanying vessels.
The source said the trip was being conducted in line with plans to ensure the Russian fleet’s military readiness. According to Interfax, the source insisted that the deployment “was not linked to the escalation of the situation in Syria.”
Interfax quoted a military source as saying the ships were carrying marines on a training mission as well as food, water and fuel for Russia’s naval maintenance and repair base in Syria’s Mediterranean port of Tartus.
$1 billion plan
Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of General Staff Gen. Benny Gantz have proposed a plan to increase the number of vessels and soldiers in the area. The plan seeks to add four new warships to the Israeli Navy while also deploying more troops in the area and utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles for patrol duties.
The $1 billion plan reportedly aims to protect Israel’s off-shore natural gas platforms in the eastern Mediterranean from “terrorist attacks.” Israel is currently running a limited patrol duty with five warships.
The burden on the Navy is likely to increase when the platforms start to pump natural gas in 2012. Joint gas exploration by Israel and Greek Cyprus has raised tensions between Turkey and the two countries. Ankara responded to the exploration by sending warships and a gas exploration vessel of its own, straining ties even further.
The moves came after a key NATO maritime group began flexing its muscles in the Mediterranean as it set off from Istanbul last week with a mission to combat terrorism in the sea. The Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 will conduct its mission in the eastern Mediterranean at a time of increased tensions in the area.