Egypt has approved the passage of two Iranian warships through the Suez Canal, a source said on Friday, a move Israel's right-wing foreign minister described as "provocative", as Washington said it was monitoring the transit of the ships.
"Egypt has agreed to the passage of two Iranian ships through the Suez Canal," the security source told Reuters.
State TV and the official news agency subsequently reported the news, without citing sources. An army source earlier said the Defense Ministry was considering a request by the Iranians to allow the naval ships to cross the strategic waterway.
The White House, meanwhile, said the United States is monitoring the possible transit of two Iranian warships through the Suez Canal and does not believe Iran has behaved responsibly in the region.
White House spokesman Jay Carney, briefing reporters on an Air Force One flight from California to Oregon, said, "We're monitoring that, obviously."
"But we also would say that Iran does not have a great track record of responsible behavior in the region," he said.
An Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman earlier told Reuters the request had been passed to the Defense Ministry and the Suez Canal Authority.
Egypt's military said the request had stated that the Iranian ships did not carry military equipment or nuclear or chemical contents. It said the two ships were currently in the Red Sea, which lies at the canal's southern end.
"The Ministry of Defense is currently studying the request," it said in a statement read to Reuters by an army source.
The source said the ministry and the armed forces were examining whether the ship contents matched the description in the written request and would make the necessary security arrangements for passage should the ships be allowed through.
To pass through the strategic waterway, naval vessels need the approval of Egypt's foreign and defense ministries.
Iranian state television said on Thursday the two warships would be the first Iranian military vessels to transit the canal since the country's 1979 revolution.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Wednesday that Iran's plan to send the ships through the canal en route to Syria, an ally of Tehran, was a "provocation".
Israel's state-funded Channel One television said Lieberman, a stridently far-right partner in the conservative coalition, had spoken out of turn and that the Defense Ministry "had preferred to ignore" the ships' approach.
Iran's move is an unwelcome distraction for Egypt's interim military government, which has close ties to the United States and has been ruling since Feb. 11, when President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in the face of a popular revolt.
The canal is a vital commercial and strategic artery between Europe and the Gulf region and Asia. It is also a major source of revenues for the Egyptian government.
Iran's semi-official Fars news agency reported on Jan. 26 that Iranian navy cadets were going on a year-long training mission into the Red Sea and through Suez to the Mediterranean.