Egypt: Iran naval vessels submit request to transit Suez

Tehran insists frigate, supply ships are on their way to Syria; Canal official initially said request to pass was withdrawn.

February 18, 2011 02:11
3 minute read.
Iranian warship IIPA Alborz [file]

iran warship 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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Two Iranian naval vessels have submitted a request to transit the Suez Canal, Egypt's Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said Egyptian authorities received the request to grant the vessels passage, while a Suez Canal official said the Defense Ministry would process the application.

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Iran denied claims Thursday that it had canceled plans to send two warships through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean Sea, saying that despite various media reports the vessels were on their way to Syria.

On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman first called attention to the Iranian intentions during a speech to the Conference of President of Major American Jewish Organizations, terming the move a “provocation” and calling on the world to “put the Iranians in their place.”

But on Thursday, Egyptian authorities initially claimed that the ships had never reached the waterway. A senior Suez Canal official was quoted saying that the two Iranian warships had withdrawn their application to transit the waterway.

The official identified the two vessels as Alvand, a frigate, and Kharq, a supply ship, and said they were en route to Syria. He said they were now in an area near the Saudi Red Sea port city of Jiddah.

In the afternoon though, the Iranian press quoted navy officials who said that the ships were set to cross the Suez and that the Iranian Navy was in touch with Egypt to receive authorization for the crossing. Warships require approval from the Egyptian Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry before crossing the Suez Canal.

Israeli diplomatic sources said Thursday it was not clear whether the Iranian warships’ failure to sail through the Suez Canal that day was because of technical or logistical glitches, or because the Egyptian authorities would not let the ships pass.

Israeli officials said Jerusalem has not been in contact with the Suez Canal Authority in recent days.

Sources in the Foreign Ministry did not rule out the possibility that by making the Iranian intentions public and bringing it to the attention of the world, Lieberman’s comments scuttled the passage.

The foreign minister had no comment on the matter Thursday.

But prior to meeting Cypriot Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou Thursday morning, Lieberman said, “Iran is taking advantage of the protests in the Arab world not in order to bring about democracy and freedom of speech, but to impose radical Islamic regimes. Iran has succeeded in building a forward base on Israel’s northern border through Hezbollah, and a forward base on Israel’s southern border though Hamas. We want to prevent the establishment of a third Iranian base in Judea and Samaria.”

US Ambassador James Cunningham, meanwhile, downplayed the significance of the possibility of the warships sailing through the canal.

“I don’t think one ought to make too much out of this,” he told Israel Radio during a visit to the family of Ahuva Tomer in Haifa. “The Iranian ships are in various places around the region. I think we can deal with whatever attempt they make, whatever show they make. I don’t think it’s such an important thing.”

Cunningham was in Haifa informing the family of Tomer, the Haifa police chief who lost her life in the Carmel Forest fire in December, that she was the embassy’s nominee for the State Department’s annual International Women of Courage Award.

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