Two Iranian naval ships passed through Egypt’s Suez Canal Tuesday and are now heading for Syria for a joint exercise with the Syrian navy. The two vessels, Alvand, a patrol frigate and Kharg, a supply ship, are the first naval vessels to travel through the Canal since Iran’s 1979 revolution when diplomatic ties between Egypt and Iran were strained.
Egypt’s ruling military council, which has been running the country since President Hosni Mubarak quit on February 11, approved the vessels’ passage. By contrast, former President Mubarak had always prevented the passage of Iranian military vessels; in fact, over the last two years, he even allowed Israeli battleships to pass through in the opposite direction to deter Iran.
An Iranian naval ship travels through Egypt’s Suez Canal for the first time since 1979 on Tuesday.
According to Israeli President Shimon Peres, the presence of Iranian warships in the Canal is a “cheap provocation” rather than a serious “threat.” The real “existential” danger from the Iranian regime, he said, is its nuclear program. But Iran has long been a supplier of weaponry to Hezbollah in Lebanon via Syria. And there is little knowledge of what materials are actually on board these ships.
Iran’s move is widely viewed as a show of bravado. Iran is telling the world it is interested in expanding its influence in the Middle East and improve relations with Israel’s ally, Egypt. Tuesday’s event is also a forewarning to Israel and the U.S. of how a new Egyptian government will handle international affairs. Former President Mubarak was known for his alliance with the U.S. and Israel. With his ousting, many in Israel and the U.S. are understandably wary of the government that will replace him.