Feb. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority said no Iranian warships have applied to use the route since yesterday, when Israel’s foreign minister accused Iran of a “provocation” by planning to send two naval vessels to Syria via the waterway.
“No Iranian war vessels have passed through the Suez Canal today and not yesterday,” the authority’s head of traffic, Ahmed El Manakhly, told Bloomberg Television in an interview. “We didn’t have any requests for any Iranian vessels to pass through the canal.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Iran was planning late yesterday to send two gunboats through the canal to Syria, which would involve sailing through the eastern Mediterranean, off Israel’s coast.
Concern that anti-government unrest in Egypt would disrupt canal traffic sent oil prices to a two-year high on Feb. 2. The 120-mile (190-kilometer) Suez Canal carries about 2.5 percent of world oil output, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc., and is a key route for ships carrying Asian consumer goods to Europe.
“According to the rules which govern navigation through Suez -- international rules -- we cannot forbid any vessel from passing through the Suez Canal if there is no war between Egypt and that country,” El Manakhly said. “Any vessel can pass through the canal if we have prior approval from the Ministry of Defense.”
Iran hasn’t sent warships through the canal in “many years,” according to Lieberman. The ships are a British-built, 1960s-era Mk-5 frigate and a supply vessel, according to Israel’s Yedioth Ahronot newspaper.
Lieberman said another provocation by Iran was the October visit to southern Lebanon by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Israeli minister compared Ahmadinejad to Hitler in a December interview in Newsweek.
Israeli leaders have voiced concern that Iran may exploit the instability in the region following the Feb. 11 ousting of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Iran has sought to crush anti-government protests at home, including one on Feb. 14 inspired by the revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, where the president was ousted last month.
Israel and the U.S. suspect that Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at producing weapons. Iran says its atomic installations are for generating power. The United Nations has imposed four rounds of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.
“The international community must understand that Israel can’t ignore forever these kinds of provocations,” Lieberman said yesterday in a speech to U.S. Jewish leaders in Jerusalem in which he discussed the ships.
After his comments, gasoline climbed to a 28-month high on the New York Mercantile Exchange, rising with crude oil and heating oil on concern that Middle Eastern oil shipments will be disrupted. Crude oil for March delivery rose 67 cents, or 0.8 percent, to settle at $84.99 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange yesterday. It fell slightly to $84.63 a barrel at 10:54 a.m. in London today.
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