Israel takes 'grave view' of Iranian warships in Suez

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The Independent Online

Two Iranian navy vessels were approaching Egypt's Suez Canal yesterday before making the first passage through the waterway since Iran's 1979 revolution. Israel said it took "a grave view" of Tehran's move.

Egypt's ruling military council, facing its first diplomatic headache since takingpower on 11 February, approved the ships' passage through the waterway, which is a vital global trading route and major source of revenues for the Egyptian authorities.

The two vessels, a frigate and a supplyship, are due to enter the canal today. "We can see what an unstable region we live in, an area in which Iran is trying to take advantage of the situation that has arisen and broaden its influence by transferring two warships via the Suez Canal," the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said in public remarks to his cabinet.

"Israel takes a grave view of this Iranian step," he said, adding that the Jewish state would need to boost defence spending as a result of Tehran's move and recent regional upheaval.Israel is also concerned about the political turmoil in Egypt, which led to the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak. Although Mr Mubarak's government often criticised Israel, it had been a committed partner to Egypt's 1979 peace treaty.

Officials at the Suez Canal said the Iranian ships arrived at the southern entrance of the waterway in the Gulf of Suez yesterday. They denied a report on Iran's Arabic-language state television channel Alalam TV, which said the ships had already passed through the canal.The decision to approve Iran's request was a difficult one for the Egyptian military, which has been running the country since Mubarak quit.

Cairo is an ally of the United States and its relations with Iran have been strained for more than three decades. Last week, the prospect of the Suez crossing was described by Israel's farright foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, as a provocation by Iran, but the defence ministry later played down his remarks.