JERUSALEM – As two Iranian warships sailed into the Mediterranean on Tuesday, an Israeli leader charged that Iran's goal was hegemony in the Middle East.
The ships exited the Suez Canal Tuesday afternoon. It was the first time Iran has sent warships through the canal since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Israeli leaders have called the move a provocation.
"The passage of the Iranian ships is part of the comprehensive struggle that Iran is conducting against the West for hegemony and control in the Middle East," Vice Premier Silvan Shalom told an energy conference in Israel's southern resort of Eilat.
"The objective of the Iranian provocation is to signal to the leaders of the Arab world who the new leader is in the Middle East," he said.
Iran and Israel are bitter enemies. Israel considers Iran a threat because of its nuclear program, missile development and frequent references by its leader to Israel's destruction. Iran also backs militant anti-Israel groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.
Despite the strong language, Israel was seen as unlikely to take action against the boats, which are expected to remain in international waters as they head toward Syria, past the Israeli coast.
Military analysts on Israeli TV news programs said the Iranian military vessel and its trailing supply ship do not pose a real threat to Israel.
Israeli security officials said that as long as the ships remain in international waters, there is nothing Israel can legally do. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.