A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Journalisrtic Hubbub Over Suez Passage

I don't usually post on weekends, reserving that as family time, but with a new hip still not fully broken in, I'm not very mobile, and something has come to my attention that may need a comment.

The Middle Eastern press is full of reportage about the transit of the Suez Canal by 11 American warships and one Israeli warship. The London-based Arabic daily Al-Quds al-‘Arabi started the furor with a report on how the Egyptian opposition were protesting the Egyptian military's provision of unusual security for the ships transiting the canal. (Link is in Arabic.) Ha'aretz picked up the story, pretty much verbatim from al-Quds, but guaranteeing Israeli attention as well. Google turns up plenty of other regional reports of this alleged huge group of vessels presumably on some sinister mission to threaten Iran.

Now first of all, as the Egyptian opposition knows very well, the Suez Canal is an international waterway open to international shipping in peacetime, and though for security reasons Israel only occasionally sends naval vessels through the canal (rarely enough that its sending of a sub through last year was news), it is entitled to do so under the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.

Now, though these days the nonce word for any group of ships seems to be "flotilla" in those waters, it's pretty clear what the 11 American ships are: they're a carrier strike group (the current name for what used to be a carrier battle group). I'm not sure what the Israeli vessel was or whether it is cooperating with the 11 US ships, but they aren't much of a mystery: the Harry S Truman (CVN 75)-led Carrier Strike Group 10 left Norfolk in May for a six-month deployment to the Sixth Fleet (Med) and Fifth Fleet (Gulf) operational area. It consists of the carrier, a guided missile cruiser, three US guided missile destroyers, and a German frigate; that's six ships of the 11, and there will be logistical ships, oilers, and probably submarine escorts as well.

And if you look at the earlier link, you'll see that the Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group began a six-month deployment in the same areas in January. Um: January . . . June . . . six month deployment . . . Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the US Navy, currently involved in two wars in Southwest Asia, is routinely rotating carrier battle groups.

Now, I don't doubt that the US wanted some publicity as it adds to the pressure on Iran, but this is no escalation, though the Israeli vessel, if attached to the group, is interesting. (Unless, of course, more is going on than is visible here.) But given the amount of open-source evidence this was going to happen, it strikes me as a tempest in a teacup. Nothing to see here, folks. Keep moving.

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