Egypt has approved a planned passage of two Iranian warships through the Suez Canal despite Israeli protests.
The country's state media reported late Friday that Egypt's Defense Ministry approved the Iranian request. Many nations' naval vessels transit the Suez Canal regularly, but this is believed to be Iran's first military naval mission into the Mediterranean in years.
Iran asked Egypt earlier this week to allow a frigate and a supply ship to pass through the strategic channel linking the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. No date for the ships' passage has been publicly announced,
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman first disclosed the Iranians' plans. He says the two ships are expected to head toward Syria once they pass through the canal.
Lieberman contends Iran's naval movements are intended as a "provocation" to Israel.
Israel views Iran as a threat because of its nuclear program, its support of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and because of Iranian leaders' calls for the demise of the Israeli state.
The canal, built across Egypt's isthmus of Suez, has been in operation for nearly 150 years, allowing mariners to avoid sailing around the entire continent of Africa on many voyages. Some supertankers are too broad to fit through narrow passages along the canal route, but a significant proportion of the world's maritime traffic passes through the waterway.
Vessels intending to transit the Suez Canal must give the waterway's authority at least 24 hours notice before entering the canal.
The Convention of Constantinople, signed in 1888, guarantees the right of passage through the canal for all seagoing vessels, military or civilian, at all times. International agreements specifically call for the canal to remain open during wartime, but during its history there have been a number of closures during conflict.
The U.S. aircraft carrier Enterprise, one of the largest vessels able to fit through the canal, passed through the waterway this week with other American warships, traveling south toward units of the U.S. Fifth Fleet in the Red Sea.