Iranian warships have entered the Mediterranean Sea after crossing through the Suez Canal to show Tehran’s “might” to regional states, the country’s navy commander has said.
Reacting to the news on Saturday, Israel’s foreign ministry denounced the deployment as a “provocation” and a “power play.” Israel said it will be watching the ship’s movements closely to ensure they do not approach its coast.
“The strategic navy of the Islamic Republic of Iran has passed through the Suez Canal for the second time since the  Islamic Revolution,” Admiral Habibollah Sayari said in remarks quoted by the official IRNA news agency.
Sayari did not say how many vessels had crossed the canal, or what missions they were planning to carry out in the Mediterranean, but said the flotilla had previously docked in the Saudi port city of Jeddah.
Two Iranian ships, the destroyer Shahid Qandi and supply vessel Kharg, had docked in the Red Sea port on February 4, according to Iranian media.
Sayari said the naval deployment to the Mediterranean would carry a “message of peace” but also put on display “the might” of Iran’s military.
“It will prove to the world that despite increasing enemy sanctions over the past 33 years, our manpower, obedient to the orders of the leader Imam Khamenei, continue to add to their academic and military abilities,” Sayari said.
The first Iranian presence in the Mediterranean in February 2011 provoked strong reactions from Israel and the US.
During the 2011 deployment, two Iranian vessels, a destroyer and a supply ship, sailed past the coast of Israel and docked at the port of Latakia in allied Syria before returning to Iran via the Red Sea.
The latest announcement comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and Israel, fueled by a longstanding dispute over Tehran’s nuclear programme and rising speculation that Israel might launch pre-emptive strikes against Iranian facilities.
William Hague, the British foreign minister, on Saturday warned that an attack on Iran would carry huge costs.
Although Iran’s suspected drive for atomic weapons could lead to a dangerous nuclear standoff in the Middle East, he said he favoured more time to allow for increased diplomacy and economic pressure.
“We are very clear to all concerned that we are not advocating military action,” Hague said.
Israeli officials accused Tehran of orchestrating anti-Israeli bombings in India and Georgia as well as blasts in Thailand last week, allegations that Iran denies.
Iran has accused Israel of assassinating several of its nuclear scientists.