Uprisings across the Arab world. Bearings askew. Sands shifting like nobody's business. And into this disorienting world of new uncertainties, the Islamic Republic of Iran sends a pair of warships toward the Suez Canal, bless its heart. It's the diplomatic equivalent of comfort food, like coming across mashed potatoes and green beans on a table where you don't recognize any of the other foods.
The vocabulary is familiar, too. Throughout the Cold War the Sixth Fleet steamed toward the Suez to signal U.S. concern about something on the far side of it and, of course in the process, raised tensions that rose further still when Soviet warships made some counter-move on the global chessboard. But if the Iranian cruiser Kharg and the frigate Alvand leave the Red Sea early on Tuesday and nose toward the Mediterranean as scheduled, the significance will be in the passage itself. No Iranian military vessel has traveled the Suez since 1979, the year Iran's shah was dispatched by the kind of mass demonstrations now threatening autocrats from Morocco to Bahrain.