Iran sends warships to Syria as fears grow for region
Published 21/02/2012 | 05:00
IRANIAN warships were docked on the Syrian coast yesterday in a fresh round of brinkmanship designed to demonstrate Tehran's support for its isolated ally amid fears the uprising could escalate into a regional showdown.
Officials in Tehran boasted that the presence of the vessels in the port of Tartus was a demonstration of Iran's military "might".
Israel said it was closely monitoring the situation, although there was no sign it was preparing to put its navy on alert as it did last February, when Iranian warships ventured through the Suez Canal for the first time.
In itself, the mission poses little threat: the two vessels, a 49-year-old corvette and a supply ship, are dilapidated, reflecting the nature of Iran's puny navy.
But the display comes at a far more sensitive time than Iran's previous foray into the Mediterranean last February, just before Syria's uprising began.
Fears have mounted that the violence in Syria could spill over into Lebanon and Iraq, which have a similar sectarian make-up.
Syria's military yesterday sent tanks and other reinforcements towards the city of Homs in what appears to be preparations by President Bashar Assad's regime for an offensive aimed at retaking rebel-held neighbourhoods.
Clashes between military rebels and Syrian forces are growing more frequent and the defectors have managed to take control of small pieces of territory in the north as well as parts of Homs province, which is Syria's largest, stretching from the border with Lebanon in the west to Iraq and Jordan in the east.
Increasingly, Syria appears to be heading towards an all-out civil war.
China made an unusually strong intervention yesterday, warning that Western support for the overwhelmingly Sunni opposition in Syria could tilt the country into civil war.
"If Western countries continue fully to support Syria's opposition, then in the end a large-scale civil war will erupt and there will be no way to avoid the possibility of foreign armed intervention," the 'People's Daily', the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, wrote.
The Middle East's sectarian divide has also grown more stark as the Syrian crisis has worsened. Iran, the region's most powerful Shia state, has shown little sign of softening its support for Mr Assad, whose Alawite minority is an offshoot of Shia Islam.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies in the Gulf have grown increasingly strident in their opposition to Mr Assad to the point of favouring regime change, an outcome that would significantly weaken Iran's regional clout. (© Daily Telegraph, London)