Iranian warships entered the Mediterreanean on 18 February, the second time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that the country has positioned navy vessels in the area.

The destroyer Shahid Qandi and its supply vessel Kharg have passed through the Suez Canal, but their destination is not clear. Navy chief Admiral Habibollah Sayari said the mission was both a show of “might” and a “message of peace”, according to local news agency Irna.

“The strategic navy of the Islamic Republic of Iran has passed through the Suez Canal for the second time since the Islamic Revolution,” says Sayari. The news comes as tensions between Iran and Israel have been rising as a result of the Irslamic Republic’s nuclear programme, which it insists is for civilian purposes.

The last time Iranian navy vessels entered the Mediterranean was in February last year, which Israel described as a “provocation”.

In related news, Tehran is reported to be planning to further expand its nuclear programme at an underground plant near the central city of Qom by installing thousands of new-generation centrifuges at the plant. If it goes ahead, it will speed up the production of enriched uranium, which is required for power generation and nuclear weapons.

The facility in Qom is reported to contain necessary electrical circuitry, piping and supporting equipment for the new centrifuges.

On 16 February, Iran announced that it had used domestically-made nuclear fuel rods in a reactor for the first time. It also revealed more efficient uranium enrichment centrifuges at its facility in Natanz in central Iran.