Israel seizes ship with missiles heading from Iran to Gaza

Israeli naval forces on Wednesday intercepted a shipment of medium-range missiles near Sudan that were headed for the Gaza Strip.

Special forces from the Shayetet 13 (Flotilla 13) unit overpowered the cargo vessel named the KLOS C – which is registered in Panama – in the early morning hours. A search aboard the vessel uncovered dozens of 302mm rockets, which are manufactured in Syria and were fired into Israel by Hezbollah during the 2006 Second Lebanon War. The rockets have a range of about 100 kilometers.

“We have conclusive evidence that there were rockets on board the ship, and we have proof and can say with certainty that Iran is behind this operation,” a senior Israel Defense Forces officer said.

The officer said that the rockets originated in Syria, were loaded onto airplanes at the Damascus airport from which they were transported to Iran. There they were boarded onto the cargo ship, which set sail about 10 days ago en route to a port in Sudan.

The IDF tracked the ship, saying it sailed north toward Iraq instead of heading directly toward the African country. The army believes that, in Iraq, the rockets were covered with cement bags in an attempt to disguise the shipment after which the vessel continued to sail toward Sudan.

The Israeli raid took place a day before the ship was set to dock in Sudan, some 1,500 kilometers off the coast of Israel. A senior Israeli officer who spoke to reporters said the rockets’ final destination was meant to be terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip. “They intended to unload the rockets in Port Sudan and transfer them to Gaza from there, presumably through Sinai,” the officer said.

Once the Israeli forces raided the ship, they began to alter its route toward the Port of Eilat, where it is expected to arrive in about three days. The 17 crew members aboard the Panamanian-flagged ship are being questioned by Israeli authorities in a bid to understand what, if any role, they played in the operation.

The scope of the arms shipment remains unclear, although the army says it contains dozens of rockets which were being tallied by the navy. Israel Navy Commander Ram Rothberg oversaw the operation from a missile boat at sea, while IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz supervised from the Defense Ministry complex in Tel Aviv.

This is not the first time Israel has seized a ship carrying a cargo of concealed weapons.

in March 2011 the “Victoria,” a German-owned ship sailing under a Liberian flag, was intercepted and seized by Israeli special forces some 200 kilometers from the Israei coast. According to the IDF Spokesman, the ship, which started its voyage in Iran, was carrying several tons of concealed weapons destined for “the use of terror organizations operating in the Gaza Strip.”

In 2009, after reportedly being tipped off by the U.S., Israel raided the “Francop” off the coast of Cyprus and redirected it to the Ashdod port, where it unloaded 500 tons of weapons. The ship was allegedly en route from Iran to Hezbollah.

And perhaps the most famous such incident occured in 2003, when IDF forces seized the “Karine A”, a vessel carrying 50 tons of missiles, mortars, rifles and ammunition destined for Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

The ship’ cargo including rockets and missiles that could have reached Ben-Gurion International Airport and major Israeli cities from PA territory. Both Iran and the PA denied any involvement.

By Haaretz


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