The Tartus naval base in Syria is becoming the “key” in the Middle East for coordinating the war efforts of those nations who will be fighting against the United States and Israel. Most people have never heard of this Syrian city or its strategic importance to Russia.
Since Russia forgave Syria of three-fourths, or $9.6 billion, of its $13.4 billion Soviet-era debt and became its main arms supplier in 2006, Russia and Syria have conducted talks about allowing Russia to develop and enlarge its naval base, so that Russia can strengthen its naval presence in the Mediterranean. Amid Russia’s deteriorating relations with the West, because of the 2008 South Ossetia War and plans to deploy a US missile defense shield in Poland, President Assad agreed to the port’s conversion into a permanent Middle East base for Russia’s nuclear-armed warships. Since 2009, Russia has been renovating the Tartus naval base and dredging the port to allow access for its larger naval vessels.
On September 8, 2008, ten Russian warships docked in Tartus. According to Lebanese-Syrian commentator Joseph Farah, the flotilla which moved to Tartus consisted of the Moskva cruiser and four nuclear missile submarines. Two weeks later, Russian Navy spokesman Igor Dygalo said the nuclear-powered battlecruiser Peter The Great, accompanied by three other ships, sailed from the Northern Fleet’s base of Severomorsk. The ships would cover about 15,000 nautical miles (28,000 km) to conduct joint maneuvers with the Venezuelan navy. Dygalo refused to comment on reports in the daily Izvestia claiming that the ships were to make a stopover in the Syrian port of Tartus on their way to Venezuela. Russian officials said the Soviet-era base there was being renovated to serve as a foothold for a permanent Russian navy presence in the Mediterranean.
In 2009, RIA Novosti reported that the base would be made fully operational to support anti-piracy operations. It would also support a Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean as a base for “guided-missile cruisers and even aircraft carriers”.
The following Iranian report details their role in this naval base on February 18, 2012:
Two Iranian Navy’s ships have docked in the Syrian port of Tartus to provide training to Syria’s naval forces based on an agreement signed between Tehran and Damascus a year ago.
The Iranian fleet, consisting of a destroyer and a supply ship, arrived at Tartus port, situated 220 kilometers (136 miles) northwest of the Syrian capital Damascus, on Friday, a day after they received permission from the Egyptian armed forces to cross the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea on the way to the Syrian coast, Mehr News Agency reported on Saturday.
The Navy has increased its presence in international waters since last year, deploying vessels in the Indian Ocean and sending two ships to the Mediterranean Sea for the first time in February 2011 via the Suez Canal. “The strategic navy of the Islamic Republic of Iran has passed through the Suez Canal for the second time since the (1979) Islamic Revolution,” Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayari said in remarks quoted by IRNA.
He did not say what missions the vessels were planning to carry out in the Mediterranean, but said the flotilla had previously docked in the Saudi port city of Jeddah.
Two Iranian ships, the destroyer Shahid Qandi and supply vessel Kharg, had docked in the Red Sea port on February 4, according to Iranian media.
Sayari said the naval deployment to the Mediterranean would show “the might” of the Islamic Republic to other countries, and also convey Tehran’s “message of peace and friendship.”
The announcement comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and Israel, fuelled by the longstanding dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program and rising speculation that Israel might launch pre-emptive strikes against Iranian facilities.
What is our president doing this week?
On Tuesday, the President and First Lady will invite music legends and contemporary major artists to the White House for a celebration of Blues music and in recognition of Black History Month as part of their “In Performance at the White House” series.
On Wednesday, the President will deliver remarks at the construction site of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum is scheduled to open in 2015 and will be the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, art, history and culture.
On Thursday, the President will travel to Miami, Florida, to participate in an official event. More details on this event and other stops in Florida will be released as they become available.