, CAIRO, Feb 22 – Two Iranian naval ships entered the Suez Canal on Tuesday, a canal source said, en route to Syria on a purported training mission that Israel regards as a provocation.
"The two ships entered the Canal on Tuesday at around 5:45 am (0335 GMT), the official said. A normal journey through the stretch takes between 12 and 14 hours.
The patrol frigate Alvand and support ship Kharg were the first Iranian warships through Suez since the 1979 Islamic revolution, and 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.
On Sunday, after a weekly meeting of his cabinet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the ships\’ arrival in the region as an Iranian power play.
"Today we are witnessing the instability of the region in which we live and in which Iran is trying to profit by extending its influence by dispatching two warships to cross the Suez Canal," he said.
"Israel views with gravity this Iranian initiative and other developments that reinforce what we have said in past years about the Israel\’s security needs," he added, according to a statement from his office.
Earlier this week, Israel Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called the move a "provocation".
The animosity between Iran and Israel has grown under the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.