Two Iranian naval ships entered the Suez Canal yesterday for the first time since the Islamic revolution, bound for the Mediterranean on a purported training mission that Israel regards as a provocation.
“The two ships entered the canal on Tuesday at around 5:45am,” a canal official said.
Normally, transiting the strategic 163km waterway takes between 12 and 14 hours.
The patrol frigate Alvand and support ship Kharg are the first Iranian warships through Suez since the 1979 Islamic revolution. They are reportedly bound for Syria, a destination that necessarily involves passing Israel.
Egypt’s official MENA news agency has reported that the request for the ships to transit the canal said they were not carrying weapons or nuclear and chemical materials.
The 1,500-tonne Alvand is normally armed with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles, while the larger 33,000-tonne Kharg has a crew of 250 and facilities for up to three helicopters, Iran’s official Fars news agency has said.
Both ships were built in Britain during the 1970s for Iran, which ordered them before the Islamic revolution.
Their passage into the eastern Mediterranean — a week after the US aircraft carrier Enterprise transited the Suez Canal in the other direction — comes when popular uprisings in Arab nations are changing the political landscape of the Middle East and leaving Israelis worried about their security.
“We are talking about an unprecedented Iranian military presence in the Mediterranean, and that is a provocation to which the international community must react firmly,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.