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Israeli president: Suez ships a 'cheap provocation'

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Iranian warships a threat to Israel?
  • Shimon Peres says the "real threat" is Iran's nuclear program
  • The Iranian navy's commander says the trip represents Iran's "self-confidence"
  • The Suez Canal is a key waterway for international trade

Madrid, Spain (CNN) -- Israel's president called the presence of Iranian warships in the Suez Canal a "provocation" and not a serious "threat," but he warned an audience of Europeans that they face an "existential" danger from the regime's nuclear program.

In Iran, a military commander expressed patriotic pride over the development: the first Iranian vessels to sail through the Suez since the Islamic republic's 1979 revolution.

The rhetoric from the two Mideast enemies flowed after two Iranian ships sailed through the Suez Canal Tuesday on their way to the Mediterranean Sea.

The move, which occurred four days after Egypt's post-Hosni Mubarak government gave the green light to their passage, put Egypt's new military regime in a prickly position with its Israeli neighbor.

Israeli President Shimon Peres, speaking on Wednesday at a meeting with government leaders, diplomats and journalists in Madrid, said that while Iran's Suez trip was a "cheap provocation," it is not by itself a serious "threat."

"The real threat stands as a clear warning sign to you and the entire world -- Iran is developing nuclear weapons of mass destruction," Peres said, according to a statement from his office citing his comments.

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"When nuclear weapons fall into the hands of terror organizations, or Iranian proxies, European capitals will be under an existential threat. Spain has suffered terribly from terror attacks and this will be the lot of many other countries in the world if they do not take drastic measures against Iran. Iran desires to take over the entire Middle East and impose its radical religious hegemony on the inhabitants of the Middle East," he said, according to the statement.

The commander of Iran's navy said Tuesday that "the presence" of the ships in the Suez means Iran can "turn threats into opportunities."

"Iran has always proved that, with guidance of the supreme leader and awareness and intelligence of young people, has reached self-confidence, and the presence of Iran's Navy flotilla in the Suez Canal is another proof," Fars News Agency reported.

The vessels, a frigate and supply ship, are on a yearlong intelligence-gathering mission to prepare cadets to defend Iran's cargo ships and oil tankers from the threat of attack by Somali pirates, Iranian officials have said, according to Fars.

The Khark and the Alvand, which passed through the canal without incident, are headed to Syria, Fars said, citing officials. The Khark has 250 crew members and can carry three helicopters. Alvand is armed with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles, Fars said.

Egypt has sovereignty over the canal. But the country also is bound by the 1978 Camp David Accords, which guarantee the right of free passage by ships belonging to Israel and all other nations on the basis of the Constantinople Convention of 1888. Before that, Egypt did not allow Israeli ships to sail through the canal.

The Suez Canal is a key waterway for international trade. It connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea, allowing ships to navigate between Europe and Asia without having to go around Africa. Millions of barrels of oil move through the Suez every day en route to Europe and North America.