Suez Canal - AP - Feb 17, 2011
The Suez Canal. Photo by AP
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Two Iranian naval ships will sail through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean on Monday, a Suez Canal official said, in what will be the first passage of Iranian naval ships through the canal since 1979.

The official said the vessels would arrive at the southern mouth of the canal in the Red Sea's Gulf of Suez on Sunday. They would enter the canal in the northern convoy on Monday morning and complete the journey to the Mediterranean by evening.

An Egyptian army source said on Friday that the military, which has been running Egypt since President Hosni Mubarak was toppled from power on Feb. 11, had approved Iran's request to send the ships through the canal.

Israel is following the movement of the warships closely, although it does not believe the Iranian vessels have hostile intentions toward Israel.

On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called the warships "another provocation" by Iran against Israel.

The vessels, which are apparently not carrying any unconventional cargo, are expected to anchor in the Syrian port of Latakia.

Israel believes the Egyptians had no choice but to allow the ships to pass through the Suez Canal, because the treaty to which it is a signatory obliges it to allow free passage through the waterway. However, during recently ousted President Hosni Mubarak's regime, the Iranians did not make such a move, apparently due to clear opposition from Cairo.

The Israel Navy is prepared in case the Iranian ships make a move toward the Israeli coastline, though the chances of that happening are at this point believed to be slim.