Two Iranian warships are approaching Egypt’s Suez Canal to cross into the Mediterranean, the first such passage since Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Iranian media said earlier that the ships were already in the Mediterranean and were on their way to a port in Syria.

“No Iranian ships have passed. Not today, not yesterday, not the day before,” the head of the canal’s operations room Ahmed al-Manakhly was quoted as saying by AFP. It is understood that the ships are scheduled to arrive on 21 February.

Iran’s official Fars news agency says the ships are the 33,000-tonne refuelling and support vessel Kharg and the 1,500-tonne light patrol frigate Alvand. Kharg can carry up to three helicopters, while Alvand is armed with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles.

Egypt gave permission for the warships to transit the canal following President Hosni Mubarak’s removal from power on 11 February. Israel, Iran’s main foe, has described the move as a provocation.

“We can see what an unstable region we live in, an area in which Iran is trying to take advantage of the situation that has arisen and broaden its influence by transferring two warships via the Suez Canal,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in public remarks to his cabinet.

He added that Israel would have to boost defence spending as a result of Tehran’s move and recent upheavals in the region.

It is the first time Iranian warships have made the passage since the revolution, which led to the severing of diplomatic ties between Tehran and Cairo.