Israel’s foreign minister claims Iran is about to send two warships through the Suez Canal for the first time in years, calling it a “provocation,” but offering no evidence.
The Egyptian authority that runs the canal has denied any knowledge of the transit.
Avigdor Lieberman said on Wednesday the ships would cross later in the day, en route to Syria. He offered no evidence and did not say how he knew it.
Ahmed Al Manakhly, director of transit in the Suez Canal Authority, told Al Jazeera that for any warship to cross through the canal, “requires approval from the Egyptian ministry of defence and security officials 48 hours in advance.”
Al Manakhly said until now they had not received such a request.
He said under international treaties, Egypt cannot prevent passage to vessels of any country unless it is in a state of war with that country.
Al Jazeera’s Cal Perry, reporting from Jerusalem, said that the Israeli media does not seem alarmed by Lieberman’s claims.
“We have to remember that this is Lieberman’s job here in Israel. He has to stay on top of these things and he has been beating this drum for the past week.”
Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency had reported on January 26 that Iranian navy cadets were going on a year-long training mission into the Red Sea and through Suez to the Mediterranean.
They were training to defend “the country’s cargo ships and oil tankers” against the threat of Somali pirates, it said.
Barack Obama, the US president, is aware of Iran’s plans for sending the ships through the Suez, the White House said.
“We’re aware of it,” spokesman Jay Carney said. He declined further comment on the issue.
“It would be inappropriate to speculate about the future movements of another country’s ships,” Chris Perrine, a Pentagon spokesman said. “I recommend you contact the government of Iran.”
Christian Le Miere of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said Iranian commercial ships regularly used Suez but he was not aware of the Iranian navy ever doing so.
“That said, it’s hard to see this as a credible threat to anyone. Two warships don’t make a flotilla,” Le Miere said.
“As long as they (Iranians) are not conducting some sort of belligerent operation I think they would have a right to go through the canal like any other country,” said James Kraska, professor of international law at the US Naval War College.