Iranian Ships Blocked by Egypt [?]

Egypt blocks Iran ships from Suez Canal

Officials overseeing the strategic waterway that connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean could not confirm the report, saying only that they have been told that plans by two Iranian naval vessels to cross through the canal had been canceled.

By Avi Issacharoff and Reuters

The Suez Canal has been told that plans by two Iranian naval ships to cross the waterway were canceled, an official said on Thursday. It was not immediately clear which side was behind the cancellation, but the Al-Arabiya daily reported that Egyptian authorities had blocked the ships from crossing.

Any naval vessels passing through the canal, a strategic international shipping route that connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, must first have approval from Egypt's foreign and defense ministries, officials said.

If the ships had crossed, it would have been the first time since Iran's 1979 revolution that Iranian warships had passed through the canal, officials said.

Iran's revolution poisoned ties with Egypt, which signed a peace treaty with Israel that year.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday called plans for the two Iranian warships to sail through the canal en route to Syria a "provocation". He had said the ships were expected to pass through the Suez Canal overnight on Wednesday.

Israel's state-funded Channel One television said Lieberman, a vociferously far-right partner in the conservative coalition, had spoken out of turn as the Defense Ministry "had preferred to ignore" the ships' approach.

An Egyptian canal official who declined to be named said that Suez Canal Authority was "informed today about the cancellation of two scheduled trips of two Iranian warships," adding that "no new date was set to cross the Suez as part of the southern convoy coming from the Red Sea."

The official, who identified the ships as the Alvand and Kharg, said the vessels were near the Saudi Arabian Red Sea port of Jeddah. Shipping experts had earlier said named the vessels as the Alvand frigate and Kharg supply ship.

Ahmed El Manakhly, a member of the canal's board who is responsible for shipping movement, had said the ships had not joined Thursday's early morning northbound convoy in the canal and were not on the waiting list to pass through on Friday.

The northbound ship convoy starts entering the canal from the Red Sea end at 6 A.M. daily, according to the Suez Canal website. Ships head south from the Mediterranean at other times of the day.

Another canal source said 26 vessels, including one French warship, had entered in the morning northbound convoy but that Iranian warships were not among them.

Iran's semi-official Fars news agency reported on Jan. 26 that Iranian navy cadets were going on a year-long training mission into the Red Sea and through Suez to the Mediterranean.

Syria is one of Israel's neighboring adversaries. It has an alliance with Iran which has deepened along with Tehran's isolation from the West over its disputed nuclear program,.

The Suez Canal is a vital commercial and strategic waterway between Europe and the Middle East and Asia. It is also a major source of revenues for the Egyptian government. [SOURCE]

Meanwhile back in Tehran:

TEHRAN (AFP) – Iranian officials were in contact with their counterparts in Egypt to secure the passage of two warships through the Suez Canal, Tehran's English-language Press TV reported on Thursday. The vessels intend to transit the canal, the channel's website quoted an unnamed Iranian navy official as saying.

"Iranian officials were in contact with officials in Cairo to secure the Iranian vessels' passage," the website said, adding that "Egyptian authorities believed there was nothing wrong with the passage."

Egypt insisted on Thursday it had not denied the two warships passage through the canal, but canal and shipping officials privately admitted they were blocked.

Iranian media had reported earlier this month that the vessels, part of a flotilla, would pass through the canal, prompting Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to brand the move a "provocation."

The ships were due to transit on Thursday, Lieberman claimed a day earlier, but a senior Suez Canal Authority official insisted his office had not received a request to allow the ships through.

"We did not receive any request for the passage of Iranian warships," Ahmed al-Manakhly, head of the canal's operations room, told AFP, adding he had no idea if any such ships were nearing the canal.

"Any warship needs approval from the defence ministry and the foreign ministry. We have seen no such approval. Before they pass, I need to have such an approval in my hand," he explained.

But privately, a canal official said the warships were on the list of ships scheduled to pass to the Mediterranean Sea before the passage was cancelled.

"They had permission, but the shipping agent told them yesterday the ships were cancelling. He said they are near Jeddah, and no new date was set," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Iran and Israel are arch-foes, with animosity between the two having surged under the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Also news to muse: In an unprecedented move, two Iranian warships called in the Saudi port of Jeddah last week. The Saudis wouldn’t have accepted this visit if they didn’t perceive their US-backed position as vulnerable and exposed.


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