Suez Canal - AP - Feb 17, 2011
The Suez Canal. Photo by AP
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Two Iranian naval ships passed through the Suez Canal on Sunday, Iranian media reported, following conflicting reports and speculations on whether or not Egypt's ruling military would approve the move.

"Two Iranian warships have passed through the canal and are heading towards a Syrian port," Al Alam said. Israel has called their passage through the canal "provocative".

The report by Iran's state broadcaster Al Alam came after a Suez Canal official claimed that the Iranian vessels were to sail through the the Mediterranean on Monday, in what will be the first passage of Iranian naval ships through the canal since 1979.

Suez Canal officials denied the Iranian report later Sunday, insisting that the voyage would take place, as planned, on Monday.

The official said the vessels were to arrive at the southern mouth of the canal in the Red Sea's Gulf of Suez on Sunday. They were then planned to 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.