(Adds Netanyahu quotes)
JERUSALEM, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Iran’s plan to send two naval ships through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean is an attempt to expand its regional influence, and Israel takes a grave view of the move, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday.
“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,” he said in public remarks to his cabinet.
“Israel takes a grave view of this Iranian step,” Netanyahu said, adding the Jewish state would need to boost defence spending as a result of Tehran’s move and recent regional upheaval.
Earlier in Egypt, Suez Canal officials said the two ships were due to sail through the waterway to the Mediterranean on Monday, denying a report from Iran that the vessels had already crossed.
The vessels would be the first Iranian naval ships to sail through the canal since Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Last week, the prospect of the Suez crossing was described by Israel’s far-right foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, as a provocation by Iran. (Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Ori Lewis)