The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies asserted that Israel has been closely following the expansion of the Iranian Navy and extension of its operations. In a report, the center said Israel was concerned over Iranian Navy operations in the Mediterranean Sea, particularly near the coast of Syria and the Gaza Strip.

“For now the Iranian naval deployment in areas close to Israel, the Red Sea, and the eastern Mediterranean is limited but nonetheless is of concern for Israel,” the report, titled “Iran’s New Strategic Horizons at Sea,” said.

Authored by Shaul Shay, former deputy director of the National Security Council, the report said Iran’s deployment of warships in the Mediterranean marked an expansion of Teheran’s strategic horizon. Shay, now a research associate, said Iran could intervene in U.S. Navy missions in the Red Sea and eastern Mediterranean in an effort to rescue the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“The efforts invested in building a stronger navy buttress the Iranian quest for expanding its influence in the Red Sea region and eastern Mediterranean,” the report, dated July 26, said. “It is able to foment trouble and aid its allies, as well as counter the American naval presence. It also encroaches upon physical proximity to Israel, an arch-enemy.”

Shay said Iran has been threatening to block the Red Sea and Gulf as well as hamper Israel Navy operations. He cited Iranian plans to stage a naval exercise in the eastern Mediterranean along with Russian and Syria in 2012.

“The strategy is result of the Iranian attempt to achieve regional hegemony and a response to the perceived threats to its national interests, in particular Western attempts to stop Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons,” the report said. “Therefore, Iran has adopted a new strategy of naval
presence in the region, sending ships to the Red and Mediterranean seas.”

The report said Iran regards the Red Sea as vital to Teheran’s quest to control the energy shipping routes to the West. The Red Sea also constituted the main waterway for Iranian weapons shipments to the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip.

The weapons route was described as starting from Iran through Yemen.

From Yemen, the weapons were said to move through the Red Sea to Sudan, and overland through Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula. The report also cited Eritrea as a way station for Iranian weapons.

“An Iranian naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean could complicate a future maritime struggle near Gaza,” the report said. “Its naval deployment sends a strategic message of support in turbulent times for Assad.”