Egyptian officials at the Suez Canal have categorically denied an Iranian announcement on Al Aram TV Sunday morning that two of its warships had already passed through the canal.
The ships are allegedly the Kharg, a 33,000-ton refueling and support vessel, and the Alvand, a 15,000-ton light patrol frigate. According to a statement issued last week by the Iranian navy, the Kharg carries a crew of 250 and three helicopters. The Alvand is armed with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles.
The officials insisted that the ships are still expected to arrive at the southern entrance of the canal in the Gulf of Suez later Sunday. They are then slated to enter the Mediterranean by Monday morning on their way to the Syrian port of Latakia for a year of training.
Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told reporters Sunday the government is taking a "grave view" of the Iranian move, which he said was aimed at exploiting the chaos created by the recent upheaval in which the 30-year regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was toppled.
"I think that today, we can see what an unstable region we live in, a region in which Iran tries to exploit the situation that has been created in order to expand its influence by passing warships through the Suez Canal. Israel views this Iranian move with utmost gravity," Netanyahu told ministers at the government's weekly Cabinet meeting.
This would be the first time Egypt has allowed Iranian naval vessels into the Suez Canal since the 1979 Revolution, when diplomatic ties were broken between the two nations.
Iran announced its plans a week ago to deploy warships from its 12th Flotilla to areas near Israel and to dock at a Syrian port for a year. In response, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned at the time that such a move would be considered a “serious provocation.”
Egyptian military officials who currently are in control of the country allegedly approved the request Friday after Iranian diplomats assured them the two vessels carried no nuclear or chemical materials, and no weapons, according to the state-run MENA news agency.
Previously officials at the canal had denied any knowledge of the matter.
With the move, Iran may have succeeded in establishing its political and naval presence in an area previously reached only through its proxies -- the Gaza-based Hamas terrorist group and the Lebanon-based Hizbullah terrorist organization. Iran, also closely allied with Syria, has recently tightened ties with Turkey as well.