JERUSALEM — Israel’s foreign minister claimed yesterday that Iran was about to send two warships through the Suez Canal for the first time in years, calling it a provocation, but he offered no evidence. The Egyptian authority that runs the canal denied it.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the ships would cross later yesterday, en route to Syria. He offered no evidence and did not say how he knew it.
“This is a provocation that proves that Iranian audacity and insolence are increasing,’’ he said in a statement.
The Egyptian body that runs the Suez Canal denied the claim.
Ahmed el-Manakhli, head of the canal operations room, said warships must get permission 48 hours before crossing. “So far, we have not been notified,’’ he said.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel is monitoring the situation.
Security officials said they have known of Iranian ship movements for some time and expect them to arrive at the canal today. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
In Washington, the Pentagon declined to comment. “It would be inappropriate to speculate about the future movements of another country’s ships,’’ said Marine Corps Major Chris Perrine, a Defense Department spokesman.
Meanwhile, the US aircraft carrier USS Enterprise was transiting the Red Sea yesterday, after passing through the Suez Canal on its way to the Navy’s 5th Fleet area to support combat operations in Afghanistan and other duties in the region, two officials in Washington said.
Israel considers Iran an existential threat because of its nuclear program, missile development, support for militants, and threats to destroy Israel.