"Israeli nuclear submarine sailed Suez Canal to the Red Sea"
Egyptian officials at Suez said they would neither confirm nor deny reports regarding military movements.
An Israeli submarine sailed the Suez Canal to the Red Sea as part of a naval drill last month, defence sources said on Friday, describing the unusual manoeuvre as a show of strategic reach in the face of Iran.
Israel long kept its three Dolphin-class submarines, which are widely assumed to carry nuclear missiles, away from Suez so as not to expose them to the gaze of Egyptian harbourmasters.
It was unclear when last month the vessel left the Mediterranean. One source said the voyage was planned for months and so was not related to unrest after the June 12 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Sailing to the Gulf without using Suez would oblige the diesel-fueled Israeli submarines, normally based in the Mediterranean, to circumnavigate Africa -- a weeks-long voyage.
Shorter-term, the submarines' conventional missiles could also be deployed in any Israeli strikes on Iran's atomic sites.
A defence source said the Israeli navy held an exercise off Eilat last month and that a Dolphin took part, having travelled to the Red Sea port though Suez. Israel has a naval base at Eilat, a 10-km (6-mile) strip of coast between Egypt and Jordan, but officials say it has no submarine dock there.
"This was definitely a departure from policy," said the source, who declined to give further details on the drill or say whether the Dolphin had undergone Egyptian inspections in the canal, through which the submarine sailed unsubmerged.
A military spokeswoman had no immediate comment on the voyage, first reported on Friday by the Jerusalem Post.
Egyptian officials at Suez said they would neither confirm nor deny reports regarding military movements. One official said that if there was such a passage by Israelis in the canal, it would not be problematic as "Egypt and Israel are not at war."
Egypt is one of only two Arab states to have signed a treaty with Israel.
Israel is the Middle East's only atomic arsenal.
Another Israeli defence source with extensive naval experience said the drill "showed that we can far more easily access the Indian Ocean, and the Gulf, than before".
But the source added: "If indeed our subs are capable of doing to Iran what they are believed to be capable of doing, then surely this is a capability that can be put into action from the Mediterranean?"
Each German-made Dolphin has 10 torpedo tubes, four of them widened at Israel's request -- to accommodate, some independent analysts believe, nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. But there have been questions about whether these would have the 1,500-km (1,000-mile) range needed to hit Iran from the Mediterranean.
Israel plans to acquire two more Dolphins early next decade.