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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Iranian Naval Vessels Pass through Suez Canal

Suzanne Presto | Cairo February 22, 2011

Iranian military vessels have used the Suez Canal for the first time since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.

The Suez Canal Authority confirmed to VOA early Tuesday that the Iranian ships were passing through the 190-kilometer strategic waterway linking the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.

Iranian media describe the two naval vessels as a patrol frigate, usually armed with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles, and a supply vessel that has the capacity to carry 250 crew members and three helicopters.

Israel has eyed the ships' movements with concern. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Tehran of trying to exploit the political situation in Egypt in order to expand Iran's influence.

Mohamed Kadry Sa'id, a retired Egyptian military officer, is the military adviser at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

He says he can understand Israel's concern, but he underscores that Egypt is required to allow vessels to use the international passage. "We cannot do things according, for example, to concerns of Israel or concerns of Lebanon or Turkey. Otherwise we're not doing our job," Sa’id said. "So, maybe every country maybe has some concerns. Israel can monitor where it [the ships] will go, if they are annoyed, but Egypt cannot stop them from going across the Suez Canal."

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley has said that Washington will watch the Iranian ships, wherever they go. He noted last week that the U.S. has ongoing concerns about Iranian weapons being supplied to "bad actors" in the region.

Even though this is the first time Iran's warships have used the canal since the Iranian revolution, Sa'id says the passage of warships through the canal is not unusual. "Maybe Iran wants to check if Egypt is dealing with Iran like other countries or not. I cannot know exactly what is in the mind of the Iranians. But, at the same time, this is a normal practice," he said.

The Iranian ships are reported to be bound for Syria, a close ally of Iran, for training. Sa'id says the Suez Canal Authority does not require ships to provide their ultimate destinations when they request passage through the waterway.

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