February 23, 2011 / 2:14 PM / 9 years ago

Israel to Europe: Iran ships augur nuclear spread

MADRID (Reuters) - Iran’s dispatch of two navy ships to the Mediterranean Sea should serve as a warning to Europe about the nuclear proliferation risk posed by Tehran, Israeli President Shimon Peres said on Wednesday.

Israel has voiced discomfort at the arrival of the Iranian frigate and support vessel, which passed through the Suez Canal en route to Syria on Tuesday in the Islamic republic’s first military use of the strategic waterway in Egypt.

“This is a cheap provocation by Iran. The passage of the ships does not in itself present a threat on our region, but the real threat, clear as a warning light, is to Europe and the entire world,” Peres said in a speech during a visit to Spain.

“Iran is developing nuclear weaponry ... and when nuclear weapons fall into the hands of terror groups, or Iranian proxies, European capitals will be under an existential threat,” he said, according to a transcript provided by his office.

Iran says its uranium enrichment is for energy needs only and has defied international sanctions aimed at curbing its disputed nuclear programme. Tehran described the naval mission to Syria, Iran’s ally and a fellow foe of Israel, as a training run.

Speaking to reporters in Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s diplomatic adviser said that given it was the first time Iranian naval ships had crossed the canal and entered the Mediterranean since the 1979 Islamic revolution, it could not be considered a “harmless” event.

“I don’t think it has military significance, but it is more a political message that we must take note of,” said Jean-David Levitte.

Allowing their Suez transit was a difficult decision for Egypt’s interim government, in power since the February 11 ouster of U.S.-aligned President Hosni Mubarak. Analysts say Iran sees itself benefiting from the upheaval across the Arab world.

Reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and John Irish in Paris, editing by Elizabeth Fullerton

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