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Syrian Naval Battles (Lebanese Civil War)

Soviet cogitations: 308
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 20 Feb 2010, 11:57
Resident Admiral
Post 25 Oct 2018, 15:02
The Lebanese Civil War was a long period of warfare into the Middle-East theatre and turned a key point of operations for multiple forces. Israel was eager to suppress the Palestinian armed groups operating from the country and invaded the nation with a tactically military success but followed by political stalemate.
Israel also used as proxy-forces groups of extremist Christian militias (the “Phalangists”), notorious for committing massacres like the “Shabra and Shatila” massacre. The western powers attempted to back unpopular puppet-governments with little success, while the Soviet-backed Syrian government often backed some Palestinian and Lebanese militias (despite incidents of infighting and switch of alliances), it was Iran that scored the most significant political victory.
The “Islamic Jihad Organization”, was the progenitor of the modern-day Hezbollah and with likely cooperation of Iranian services carried devastating attacks on Israeli, US and French forces, killing hundreds in spectacular bombing blasts and forcing the Western forces to pullout.
On the ground forces however it was the socialist-oriented Druze ethnic Progressive Socialist Party that scored decisive victories against the US-backed puppet governments (nowadays the PSP lost most of its political support). Other communist and socialist groups (Lebanese and Palestinians), like the Lebanese Communist Party (and its armed wing) operated in different coalitions, usually allied with Syria and the growing power of Hezbollah.

The conflict saw a number of still poorly known naval incidents:
Extremist Palestinian groups (“Black September”/Abu Nidal Organization) carried naval terrorist acts, with little military value, against civilian targets
Other Palestinian groups used speedboats to land infiltrators in Israel, but again many of these attacks resulted in civilians being targeted.
(NOTE: this article will not delve nor condone such actions, moreover of little proper naval warfare importance! The only proper naval warfare attack committed by Palestinians (of communist PFLP group) occurred on 1968 and was an isolated episode)
More significantly, a number of merchants suffered damages or sinking by limpet mine attacks in harbor (nowadays many of these actions are still poorly known and usually no group claimed responsibility!)

The Naval conflict escalated only in late ‘80s when the Syrian Navy attempted to impose a naval blockade (with only partial results) because the opportunist Lebanese general Michel Aoun thanks the American influence received direct backing from Iraq (at the time Iraq and USA shared good relationship, in view of anti-Iranian politics). Saddam Hussein looked at Syria as a “rival” Baathist power and attempted to expand his influence over Lebanon with the American blessing. Syrian Navy dropped the blockade when the Americans allowed the Syrian Army invade Lebanon (thus openly betraying Michel Aoun) to topple the government in exchange for nominal support during the Gulf War against Saddam Hussein.

Syrian forces occupied Lebanon until 2005. Meanwhile the fighting in South Lebanon ended in in 2000 with the rise of Hezbollah as a significant military and political power and resulted in the first-ever conflict resulting in a defeat for Israel. Israel lost ground in South Lebanon retreating from the occupied land, moreover their proxy-force, the “Phalangists” was quickly destroyed as soon as the Israeli Army abandoned it to its fate.

Sources include the magnificent work done by (c)Alexander Rosin on the russian blog
Also multiple western press report.

3 March 1973
Merchant Sounion (3250 GRT)(former British troop transport HMS Royal Ulsterman) sunk at the pier in Beirut after sabotage. Unknown responsibility.

August 1976
Greek vessel Tina sunk by 3 limpet mines in Lebanon, attack done by a right-wing Lebanese Christian group.
Ship reportedly had partial cargo of weapons destined to Al Fatah.

23 October 1976
Cypriot (or Greek) merchant Eko (383 GRT) sunk by limpet mine placed by Lebanese Christian group.
Also ships “Riri” and “Spiro” reportedly sunk.

September 1978
Cypriot merchant Kimon (335 GRT) arrested in Beirut harbor for smuggling. Caught up in battle, hit by rockets and sunk. Wreck later raised and scuttled.

27 April 1979
Cypriot merchant Tarek (500 GRT) sunk in harbor by limpet mine attached by frogmen at Tyre (Israeli or Phalangists).

7 July 1980
Lebanese merchant Khalil (473 GRT) involved in combat operation, heavily damaged after she caught fire. On 8 September towed in Bay of Jounieh, blown up and sunk.

22 May 1981
Libyan merchant Rola Rana (1274 GRT) sunk in harbor by limped mine attached by frogmen

2 January 1982
Lebanese tanker Babanaft (20778tons) damaged by rockets while loading oil meant to be delivered to Iraq. It is suspected the attack carried by a pro-Iranian Shia group.

9 March 1982
Lebanese cargo ship blew up in Tyre harbor, Israel suspected for the attack (Palestinian controlled the harbor and the ship observed a Israeli gunboat chasing her before)

17 June 1982
Lebanese merchant Transit (499 GRT) heavily damaged due a bomb explosion planted into the ship as sabotage. Ship was carrying refugees from Lebanon to Cyprus, likely a Israeli sabotage. Ship grounded off Tripoli (total loss), 25 casualties among passengers.

19 November 1983
Lebanese merchant Sweet Waves (995 GRT) shelled at Tripoli, later broken up.

23 July 1985
Honduran merchant Roule (998) (cargo: cement) sunk in Sidone by Israeli artillery. Ship was heading to Khalden (Lebanon).

30 January 1986
Two hydrofoil boats, Svalan and Tarnan, mysteriously sunk in the Italian harbor of Messina. Examination of wrecks reveal remains of bomb and bomb-inflicted damage. It is unclear who hired the boats and which faction sunk them: given the complex nature of extra-territory naval spec-op operation, it is likely the boats hired by Lebanese or Palestine militia and sunk by Israeli commandos.

1 February 1987
Egyptian vessel Fast Carrier damaged by two limpet mines in Lebanon. Scarce details.

15 February 1988
The Palestinian ferry Al Awda (6151 GRT) (ex- Sol Phryne) bought by the Palestinian Liberation Organization scheduled to depart from Limassol harbor of Cyprus carrying Palestinian civilians and international journalists to Haifa, in a symbolic voyage. Israeli frogmen planted limped mines heavily damaging the vessel thus preventing the voyage (shortly before a car bomb also assassinated three PLO officials).
For years, Israeli ignored the obvious accusation of being behind the attack, followed by “hints” in press sources (a common Israeli practice, to avoid admitting all the illegal extra-territorial activities).
(The fate of the ship is quite mysterious; she sunk on 6 December 1991 in Yugoslavian water. After the damage, she was sent to Yugoslavia apparently for repairs).

27 December 1988
The Vanuatu-flagged merchant Inge Webb (1258 GRT) seized by Christian Lebanese militia on sea (likely on speedboats) off the coast of Lebanon.
(NOTE: wrongly reported on 1987)

1 April 1989
Italian cargo Isola Azzurra (cargo: 5000 tons of sulfuric acid) suffered attack from four mortar-rounds scoring one hit with damages (other report say rocket grenades). No casualties.

5 April 1989
First Syrian Navy direct operations in Lebanese waters: three Project-205U missile boats entered Tripoli harbor (controlled by pro-Syrian formations). Later joined by high-speed boats.

Photo of Soviet project205U class (different missile canisters compared to project205)

10 April 1989
Two unidentified merchant ships reported direct hit damages due artillery coming from Beirut seaport.

11 April 1989
The Soviet diving-boat SB-524 (project714) suffered a friendly-fire accident by Syrian Mi-25 attack helicopter that launched four rockets at first missing, followed by an anti-tank missile scoring a hit.
In addition to the moderate damages, 6 sailors WIA (one later deceased by wounds).
The helicopter (at first directed by a Mi-14) believed to attack a Lebanese ship manned by militias.

15 April 1989
Italian merchant Coccinella (2970tons) (cargo of diesel fuel) suffered a shell hit eight miles from Beirut.
Ship was sailing to Junieh, and was likely attacked by Syrian ground artillery. No casualties.
Another similar attack occurred on the Honduran-flagged merchant Conti Mini (363 GRT) but while hit she reached Larnaka harbor.

18 May 1989
Lebanese merchant Paula (1000 GRT) (cargo of food) damaged by 130mm Syrian ground artillery. 4 wounded.

21 May 1989
Syrian patrol boats detained a cargo ship heeding to Lebanon with weapons. Unclear the ultimate fate of vessel (if fully impounded or released). Considering the military nature of the ship, it is the de-facto first full Syrian naval success. Identity of ship is unclear, as for the exact class of attackers.

15 June 1989
An unidentified Greek tanker suffered a direct hit (likely from ground artillery) near the port of Junieh suffering a fire.

1 July 1989
Lebanese yacht Sea Tiger intercepted and seized by Syrian patrol boats. Six captured. Ship brought to Tartus and later released alongside crew.
Considering the quick release due the not-threatening nature, it is not a real Syrian naval victory/success.

Other sources state the Syrian Navy also intercepted seized on sea and brought to Tripoli a fuel tanker and three cargo ships carrying food. Details of such ships and the seizures are unknown. So far it is unconfirmed if these ships were released or detained. These seizures occurred on unclear days, but before 9 August.

9 August 1989
Lebanese tanker Aloil (459 GRT) delivered her cargo of fuel at Junieh, on her way back while sailing in open waters she suffered gunfire or even torpedo hit (!) by the Syrian Navy, sinking.
Unclear identity of the possible Syrian attacker but apparently this is the only fully confirmed sinking achieved by the Syrian Navy.

21 August 1989
Lebanese merchant Bassam B. (398 GRT) sunk by mine at Sidon. Currently unclear for which side the ship operated and details of the sinking (naval mine? Limpet mine?).

29 August 1989
St.Vincent&Grenadines-flagged tanker Sun Shield (1480 GRT) (cargo of gasoline) apparently sunk by a Syrian Navy project205U missile boat while trying to reach the harbor Junieh. According a survived crewmember, the ship struck by naval missile: it could be the first (and so far only) confirmed missile naval success scored by Syrian Navy. However according other local forces the ship targeted by ground artillery. Ship already brought fuel to the besieged Christian city. 7 crewmembers (including Lebanese captain) killed, 2 missing, 2 wounded. It appears clear that due the nature of conflict, the ship’s survivor (and anti-Syrian press) intended to “enrich” the sinking claiming a full naval attack with missile. On the other hand, it is also possible Syrian sources wanted to downplay and deny the possibility of such attack to not appear too aggressive.
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