Israel seizes weapons it said were being sent by Iran to Syria
Israel's Navy seized a ship off the coast of Cyprus with 500 tons of weapons that it alleges were sent by Iran to Syria, and ultimately destined for Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.
(Page 2 of 2)
General Ben Yehuda said the weapons originated in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. The shipment was picked up by the Francop in Damietta, Egypt. From there, the boat was scheduled to make stops in Limassol, Cyprus, and in Beirut before reaching Latakia, Syria.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Ben Yehuda described the shipment as "huge," with "quality" weaponry, but claimed it was but a "drop in the sea."
Military officials said the Navy and Air Force have stopped ships in the Mediterranean hundreds of times, an activity they asserted was in keeping with international law and carried out also by navies from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Ben Yehuda evaded questions during a press conference about whether the Navy had advance knowledge that the Francorp was carrying weapons, though local journalists who had been briefed on the matter by officers said that the ship had been under surveillance for two days.
The military said it estimated that there were 3,000 rockets aboard the ship, enough for about one month's worth of fighting against Israel. Analysts say that Iran wants to use the threat of an attack from Hezbollah to deter an Israeli strike on its nuclear facilities.
"It's a victory for Israeli intelligence. It's very unlikely this was by pure chance,'" says Meir Javedanfar, an Iran expert based in Tel Aviv. "It also shows that Iran is preparing itself for a showdown in Lebanon, be it before or after, a possible Israeli strike. It shows that despite the recent setbacks for Iran, the regime still continues to arm its allies."
The weapons seizure was reminiscent of the Navy's 2002 seizure of the Karine A – also far from the Israeli shore -- which was ferrying some 50 tons of arms from Iran to Palestinian militants loyal to Yasser Arafat at the height of the uprising against Israel.
Earlier this year, Israeli planes reportedly destroyed a 23-truck weapons convoy in Sudan that Israel said was bound for Hamas in Gaza. Cyprus detained and investigated a Russian ship under a Cypriot flag with a weapons shipment from Iran to Syria.
Israel also accuses Iran of supplying Hamas militants in Gaza with rockets and anti-tank missiles. On Tuesday, military intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin told a parliament committee that Hamas had test-fired a rocket capable of reaching the southern suburbs of Tel Aviv. Hamas later on Tuesday denied the allegation.
Intelligence officials have said that Hamas has nearly reached its pre-war rocket strength thanks to smuggling tunnels.