Iran gains Mediterranean bases in Italy and Syria

As part of Iran’s drive to rule the strategic waves of regional waters, Tehran has negotiated a naval exchange deal with Rome for its warships to be berthed in Italian ports, debkafile’s military sources reveal.
In this context, the US Pentagon and Navy chiefs once again urged Israel to update and enlarge its war fleet, which they said was “full of holes” to catch up with the rapidly changing conditions opposite its shores, where Russia, Iran and Egypt are building up armadas of warships that are bigger and more advanced than ever before.

The American warning to Israel was first reported by debkafile Aug. 11 (Urgent Israeli Navy order for new US coastal craft), after Moscow posted its Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier to the Mediterranean, and Egypt took delivery of the Anwar El Sadat, the first of two Mistral-class helicopter carriers bearing 92 choppers, purchased from France. The second, Gamal Abdel Nasser, was handed over on Sept. 16.

Israel’s naval inferiority was further underlined last week when Iran’s Navy commander, Rear-Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, went into action to carry out supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s orders to acquire naval bases in Syria and Italy for establishing a permanent Iranian fleet presence in the Mediterranean.

The admiral moved fast. The Italian Navy chief Rear-Admiral Roberto Chia Marcella visited Tehran on Sept. 5. and Saturday, Sept. 24, the first Italian frigate, Euro, docked at Bandar Abbas, home to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards command.

Until now, the farthest point reached by the Iranian Navy was the Gulf of Aden.

The intervention of the fleets of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the Yemen war pushed the Iranian navy back from its thrust to expand its presence towards the Mediterranean. Their joint action evicted the Iranian navy from Yemen’s Red Sea ports, and prevented Tehran from capturing the strategic islands in the mouth of the Bab-al-Mandab Strait at the entrance to the Red Sea.

Today, DEBKA Weekly’s military sources note, the Iranian Navy is hard put to obey the ayatollah’s orders, lacking the warships and advanced submarines for this new strategic mission. Iran’s warships can certainly not stand up to Egypt’s Mistral-class helicopter carriers or find answers for the Dolphin-class submarines that Germany has sold Israel.

Hence the approach to Rome to extend the Iranian navy’s capacity and range of operations.

The two admirals’ talks in Tehran ended in a vague agreement “to strengthen bilateral ties.”        

Iran, however, has the money and the will to invest in new warships, while Italy has the will to build such ships for the Iranian fleet. The Italians are, moreover, not averse to allowing the Iranian fleet to use their Mediterranean bases.    

Besides the financial benefits, Italy is additionally motivated by the steady reduction in the number of warships that the US Sixth Fleet maintains at its ports. It has been nearly a year since a US aircraft carrier anchored at an Italian port. Italy’s Defense Ministry and its military command understand that if the US president who succeeds Barack Obama in January continues the policy of withdrawing American forces from the Middle East, Italian naval bases will be emptied of warships.

Rear-Admiral Marcella’s comments during his visit to Tehran are worth noting: He said "In the future, we will witness Italian vessels berthing at (Iran's) southern harbors falling within the Iranian Navy's sphere of operation.” He added, “It is certain that these talks and meetings will lead to the development of interaction and cooperation in different military areas between the two countries of Iran and Italy."

For his part, Iranian Navy Commander Sayyari said "Italy enjoys around 8,000 kilometers (4,970 miles) of maritime border and the Mediterranean is also strategically very significant, given the fact that it connects the important Suez Canal and the Strait of Gibraltar.”

These words served to delineate the waters where Italian-made Iranian warships were likely to operate in the future. The Euro’s arrival at Bandar Abbas Saturday, Sept. 24 lent substance to those words.


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