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      Earthquake Shakes Up Suez Canal as Iran Warships Approach

      An earthquake shook up residents at the entrance to the Suez Canal, two days before two Iranian warships are expected to sail through it.
      By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
      First Publish: 2/21/2011, 8:53 AM / Last Update: 2/21/2011, 10:06 AM

      An earthquake measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale shook up residents at the entrance to the Suez Canal early Monday morning, 48 hours before two Iranian ships, a frigate and a supply vessel, are expected to enter the canal.

      The National Institute for Astronomical and Geophysical Research reported that tremors from the 3 a.m. quake lasted for 27 minutes, but caused no damage.

      The ships had originally been expected to enter the Suez today (Monday), but Egyptian officials announced the delay this morning, without explanation.

      Iran inexplicably announced Sunday morning that two of its warships had crossed the Suez, a report that was thoroughly denied by Egyptian authorities. Iranian media did not mention the ships on Monday, and the false report may have been for local consumption.

      No Iranian ship has been allowed to pass through the Suez Canal since Iran's 1979 overthrow of the Shah and Egypt's signing of a peace treaty with Israel the same year.

      Egyptian-Iranian Rapprochement?
      Egypt’s agreeing to allow Iranian ships to pass through the Suez is seen by many analysts as a signal that the new regime in Egypt is leaning towards ties with Iran, but Suez Canal officials have pointed out that an international convention requires it allow passage to all ships.Egypt has reportedly agreed to allow the Iranian boats to pass through the canal en route to Syria. The Obama administration is concerned about “what’s the cargo on board, where is it going, to whom, for what benefit," U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters. Iran has said that the ships are headed for Syria for training, Crowley commented, as laughter was heard in the audience: “My initial response to that would be that we’re highly skeptical of that claim.”

      President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu have accused Iran of trying to exploit the crisis in Egypt to increase its influence in the Middle East.

      “Iran wants to say to the world, to the United States, Israel and other countries in the Mideast that it has reached not only areas close to it but also farther away, including in the Mediterranean," Ephraim Kam of the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel told the Associated Press.

      The Iranian maritime maneuver also signals it is prepared to protect the Hamas and Hizbullah terrorist organizations on Israel’s southern and northern borders.

      Iran officials last month announced that its ships would be sailing through the Suez to gather intelligence, but analysts stress that the Islamic Republic’s ultimate goal is to establish Shi’ite dominance in the Muslim world, far beyond Lebanon and Syria.