IRAN: Warships may still pass through Suez Canal
Press TV cited an unidentified naval official as saying Iranian officials were in contact with Egypt to arrange passage for the warships and that Egyptian authorities believed there was nothing wrong with their planned journey. The broadcaster said the official was confirming previous reports that Iranian warships would use the waterway.
After the report aired, officials with the Suez Canal Authority said no Iranian naval vessels had been granted permission to sail through the waterway, according to Bloomberg.
"We don’t have any information or a license from any ministry in Egypt," the canal’s head of traffic, Ahmed Manakhly, told Bloomberg after the Iranian report.
Egypt's Defense Ministry must approve any vessel’s use of the canal, Manakhly said, but, "according to the rules which govern navigation through Suez -- international rules -- we cannot forbid any vessel from passing through the Suez Canal if there is no war between Egypt and that country."
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had said Wednesday that Iran was planning to send two gunboats through the canal to Syria, which would involve heading through the eastern Mediterranean, off Israel’s coast, a clear "provocation."
"It’s meant as a clear provocation to Israel, and is also an attempt by Iran to change the subject from the fact that, while Tehran welcomed the downfall of the Egyptian government, they have a problem at home right now where a certain section of their own people would like to see that regime also fall," said Jonathan Spyer, a political scientist at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya near Tel Aviv, during an interview with Bloomberg.
Iran’s opposition has called for nationwide rallies Feb. 20 to mourn those killed in anti-government protests this week, according to the website of former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, who challenged President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 2009 election.
The Iranian navy’s use of the canal would be "both a provocation and their right," Cliff Kupchan, Iran analyst at the Eurasia Group, told Bloomberg Thursday in an interview from Washington.
"Given they haven’t done it in a long time and they are doing it in the context of Middle East instability, it is certainly a provocation," he said.
Kupchan said the use of the canal by Iranian warships would be important because it would "signal Iran’s growing influence in this time of flux."
"These guys are masters at disinformation, roiling markets, keeping everyone guessing," he said. "Sometimes they pull the punch, sometimes they throw the punch."
-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske
Photo: A February 2009 image shows the Iranian warship Alvand in the Persian Gulf. Egypt's Suez Canal Authority on Thursday said it had received no request to allow Iranian warships passage to the Mediterranean, after Israel said two vessels were on their way. Credit: Majid Jamshidi / AFP/Getty Images