Suez Canal Officials Reschedule Iranian Ships

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Suez Canal officials now say two Iranian warships will begin their passage through the canal to the Mediterranean early Tuesday morning. Conflicting reports about the ships' passage followed Iran's announcement that the ships had traversed the canal.

"Two Iranian warships have passed through the canal and are heading toward a Syrian port," Iran's state broadcaster al-Alam reported on Sunday.

After announcing a 48-hour postponement early on Monday, which would have delayed the passage until Wednesday, canal officials are now saying the ships will start their passage on Tuesday morning.

According to media reports, the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the ships will pay a $290,000 crossing fee.

It will be the first time since 1979 that Iranian warships have passed through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea.

Israel said it is closely monitoring the situation.

"We can see just how unstable a region we live in, in a region where Iran attempts to take advantage of the current situation to advance its influence by passing two war vessels through the Suez Canal," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday.

Netanyahu said this and other developments show Israel's defense needs and its defense budget will grow.

Radical Islamic Iran and Western-backed Egypt have long vied for supremacy in the Middle East.

Pro-democracy protests in Egypt toppled the long-time government of Hosni Mubarak on February 11. The military is currently ruling Egypt, and Iran would like to see the country transition into a fellow Islamic state.

Egypt may have moved a step closer to that last week with the return from exile of popular radical Islamic cleric Yusef al-Qaradawi.

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