Last week, pirates attacked and executed four Americans in the Indian Ocean. We and the Europeans have endured literally thousands of attacks by the Somali pirates without taking the initiative against their vulnerable boats and bases even once. Such paralysis is but a symptom of a sickness that started some time ago.
So warns novelist,journalist and historian critic Mark Helprin* in a recent essay that parallels the disturbing announcement by the Iranian Navy that Iran will build a permanent naval base in Syria
Just two days after two Iranian warships reached the Syrian port of Latakia via the Suez Canal, Friday, Feb. 25, an Iranian-Syrian naval cooperation accord was signed providing for Iran to build its first Mediterranean naval base at the Syrian port, DEBKAfile's military and Iranian sources reveal.
The base will include a large Iranian Revolutionary Guards weapons depot stocked with hardware chosen by the IRGC subject to prior notification to Damascus. Latakia harbor will be deepened, widened and provided with new "coastal installations" to accommodate the large warships and submarines destined to use these facilities.
Iran has much to celebrate, DEBKAfile's military sources report. It has acquired its first military foothold on a Mediterranean shore and its first permanent military presence on Syrian soil. Tehran will be setting in place the logistical infrastructure for accommodating incoming Iranian troops to fight in a potential Middle East war.
According to our sources, the "cadets" the Kharg cruiser, one of the two Iranian warships allowed to transit the Suez Canal, was said to be carrying were in fact the first construction crews for building the new port facilities.
Two more events were carefully synchronized to take place in the same week.
On Feb. 24, as the Iranian warships headed from the Suez Canal to Syria, Hamas fired long-range made-in-Iran Grade missiles from the Gaza Strip into Israel, one hitting the main Negev city of Beersheba for the first time since Israel's Gaza campaign two years ago - asDEBKAfile reported on that day. Tehran was using its Palestinian surrogate to flaunt its success in getting its first warships through the Suez Canal in the face of Israeli protests. The Iranians were also parading their offensive agenda in deploying warships on the Mediterranean just 287 kilometers north of Israel's northernmost coastal town of Nahariya.
The second occurrence was a contract announced by Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov for the sale of advanced Russian shore-to-sea cruise missiles to Syria. The Yakhont missile system has a range of 300 kilometers and skims the waves low enough to be undetected by radar. DEBKAfile's military sources take this sale as representing Moscow's nod in favor of the new Iranian base at Latakia, 72 kilometers from the permanent naval base Russia is building at the Syrian port of Tartous.
The Russians are willing to contribute towards the Iranian port's defenses and looking forward to cooperation between the Russian, Iranian and Syrian fleets in the eastern Mediterranean opposite the US Sixth Fleet's regular beat
However, the United States Fleet Sixth Fleet is sending two warships to monitor the situation in Libya. A chartered ferry removed a few hundred Americans from Tripoli last week, while British, French, Italian and Russian vessels carted their citizens out of harm's way.
The spin from the White House holds that its determinations were based upon the safety of the US citizen -nothing safer than a ferry.
America removed the Captain of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, because he helped boost morale on that deployed warship in harm's way with bawdy video. The Navel Gazers won. America's debate about anything is controlled by Navel Gazers, if not fools and grifters.
An American writer of great talent Mark Helprin understands our national folly. Americans will self-examine and hair shirt for months about an unpopular or PC utterance by anyone and wholly ignore, in an instance, a calamity of historic proportions - see 9/11. It took no time at all for Americ's belly-button watchers like Noam Chomsky, Ward Churchill and half of Hollywood to blame America for the twin towers attack by Islamists.
. . .And yet the fleet has been made to wither even in time of war. We have the smallest navy in almost a century, declining in the past 50 years to 286 from 1,000 principal combatants. Apologists may cite typical postwar diminutions, but the ongoing 17% reduction from 1998 to the present applies to a navy that unlike its wartime predecessors was not previously built up. These are reductions upon reductions. Nor can there be comfort in the fact that modern ships are more capable, for so are the ships of potential opponents. And even if the capacity of a whole navy could be packed into a small number of super ships, they could be in only a limited number of places at a time, and the loss of just a few of them would be catastrophic.Here is the Syrian point of view -
. . .The United Sates Navy need not follow the Royal Navy into near oblivion. We have five times the population and almost six times the GDP of the U.K., and unlike Britain we were not exhausted by the great wars and their debt, and we neither depended upon an empire for our sway nor did we lose one.
Despite its necessity, deficit reduction is not the only or even the most important thing. Abdicating our more than half-century stabilizing role on the oceans, neglecting the military balance, and relinquishing a position we are fully capable of holding will bring tectonic realignments among nations—and ultimately more expense, bloodletting, and heartbreak than the most furious deficit hawk is capable of imagining. A technological nation with a GDP of $14 trillion can afford to build a fleet worthy of its past and sufficient to its future. Pity it if it does not,
Syrian Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Ali Mohammad Habib soon put him right on the "cadets' outing." At a ceremony in honor of the Iranian Navy Commander Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, Habib said: "Iranian warships' presence in the Mediterranean Sea for the first time after 32 years is a great move that is going to cripple Israel." Empasis my own.
America needs to straighten its spine and look to our interests around the world. Let Hollywood take care of Dafur and African AIDS for the time being. Iran will have a naval base paid for by Russia in Syria. Israel needs a friend - Israel needs Americans. Americans telling Washington to keep America's Navy strong and present in the world will be a good start.
Americans need to ignore the Navel Gazers and look to our Navy.
Born in 1947, Mark Helprin was raised on the Hudson and in the British West Indies. After receiving degrees from Harvard College and Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, he did postgraduate work at the University of Oxford, Princeton, and Columbia. He has served in the British Merchant Navy, the Israeli infantry, and the Israeli Air Force. He was published in The New Yorker for almost a quarter of a century, and his stories and essays on politics and aesthetics appear in The Atlantic Monthly, The New Criterion, The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, The New York Times, The National Review, American Heritage, Forbes ASAP, and many other publications here and abroad. Senior Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy, Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, Member of the Council on Foreign Relations, former Guggenheim Fellow and Senior Fellow of the Hudson Institute, and Adviser on Defense and Foreign Relations to presidential candidate Robert Dole, he has been awarded the National Jewish Book Award, the Prix de Rome, and the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award, 2006, among other prizes. Translated into more than a dozen languages, his books include A Dove of the East & Other Stories, Refiner's Fire, Ellis Island & Other Stories, Winter's Tale, Swan Lake (With illustrations by Chris Van Allsburg), A Soldier of the Great War, Memoir from Antproof Case, A City in Winter and The Veil of Snows (both with illustrations by Chris Van Allsburg), The Pacific & Other Stories, and Freddy and Fredericka.