JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel takes a "grave view" of Iran’s plan to send two navy warships through the Suez Canal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
"I think that today, we can see what an unstable region we live in, a region in which Iran tries to exploit the situation that has been created in order to expand its influence by passing warships through the Suez Canal. Israel views this Iranian move with utmost gravity and this step, like other steps and developments, underscores what I have reiterated in recent years – Israel’s security needs will grow and the defense budget must grow accordingly," Netanyahu told his Cabinet in public remarks at the beginning of the weekly meeting.
Canal officials told Reuters Sunday that the ships were scheduled to make the trip through the canal on Monday; later reports later on Sunday said the ships’ passage would be delayed another 48 hours. The Egyptian military, which is currently running the country and thus the canal, reportedly had approved over the weekend the request to send the Iranian warships through the canal.
The ships are on their way to Syria for what has been described as training.
They would be the first Iranian naval ships to sail through the canal since the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had announced Feb. 16 that the ships were en route to Syria via the Suez Canal. His statement called the move a recurring Iranian "provocation" and suggested that Israel would not ignore Iran’s actions.
"The international community must understand that Israel cannot forever ignore these provocations," he said.
According to international rules governing navigation through the Suez Canal, no vessel can be denied passage unless it is at war with Egypt. Prior approval must come from the Ministry of Defense, and ships must give at least 24 hours notice before crossing.