Two Iranian Navy warships crossed the Suez Canal on Tuesday, for the first time in over 30 years, in a belligerent move that the government says is an attempt by the Islamic Republic to project its power throughout the Middle East.

The ships – the Kharg, which has 250 crew members and can carry three helicopters, and the Alvand, which has a crew of 135 and is armed with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles – entered the canal early on Tuesday morning and arrived in the Mediterranean Sea by the evening.

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Defense officials said the vessels did not pose a threat to the Israel Navy, which would be watching them from a distance and would not engage them. The Iranian ships will pass Israel at a distance as they make their way to Syria, where they are expected to dock for several months.

“This is a major provocation,” a senior defense official said. “We will keep an eye on the ships.”

It’s the first time Iranian military vessels have sailed into the Mediterranean since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The ships reportedly paid about $300,000 in fees for the passage.

Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom told reporters the move is part of an Iranian struggle “against the West for hegemony and control in the Middle East.”

Iran’s goal is to show the Arab world “who the new leader is in the Middle East,” he said.

Egypt apparently apparently had no choice but to grant the vessels passage because an international convention regulating shipping says the canal must be open “to every vessel of commerce or of war.”

Egypt also cannot search naval ships passing through the waterway.

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