Israel trumpets seizure of 'Iranian' weapons shipment

Israel says the weapons originated in Syria and were bound for Hamas. Prime Minister Netanyahu, in the US this week, warned Washington not to be distracted by Iran's nuclear outreach.

Carolyn Kaster/AP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the AIPAC meeting at the Washington Convention Center, Tuesday, March 4, 2014, in Washington. The prime minister is in Washington this week for the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference.

Behind the recent smiles, Iran is still a dangerous sponsor of terrorism against Israel.

That’s the message Israel is broadcasting today after its navy reportedly intercepted a shipment of missiles in the Red Sea this morning. Israel says that the missiles, which originated in Syria but were shipped via Iran, were destined for Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

"At a time when Iran is talking with world powers, is smiling and uttering pleasantries, it is also sending deadly weapons to terrorist organizations – via an elaborate network of secret operations around that world that aim to funnel rockets, missiles and other deadly weapons to be used to harm innocent civilians," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today from the US. He was in Washington this week for the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference.

"This is the real Iran, and this country must not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons. We will continue to do everything we must to protect the citizens of Israel," he said. 

The shipment, which was expected to be unloaded in Sudan and then make its way overland through Egypt and the Sinai peninsula to Gaza, contained some variation of M302 rockets. Such missiles are quite accurate and could have put about 4 million Israelis in danger if fired from Gaza, according to Vice Admiral Eliezer Marom, the commander of the Israeli navy from 2007-11. He emphasized the ongoing role of Iran in sponsoring terrorist organizations against Israel.

“There are people who are waking up every day in Iran, who are part of the Revolutionary Army, and their mission is to smuggle weapons to the terrorist organizations so that they will be directed to the citizens of Israel,” he told reporters in a conference call.

According to the Jerusalem Post, an Israeli intelligence estimate at the end of 2013 assessed that Hamas possesses 5,000 short-range rockets and dozens of medium-range rockets. Meanwhile, Iranian proxy Hezbollah, which is active near the Lebanon-Israel border, is thought to have some 100,000 rockets and the ability to strike all of Israel.

The Israel Defense Forces released a video (text in Hebrew) purportedly taken during the Shayetet 13 special forces’ raid of the Panama-registered Klos C cargo vessel this morning, nearly 1,000 miles off Israel’s coast.

It also released a video detailing the weapons' route in English for international consumption. 

At this point, it is impossible to verify the IDF’s account of the operation, the contents of the ship, their origin, or their destination, although Israeli forces have been known to intercept Iranian-supplied weapons shipments to Gaza before, including the Victoria in March 2011, the Francop in November 2009, and the Karine A in 2002.

But what is clear is that an Iranian weapons shipment couldn’t have come at a better time for Israeli leaders and supporters, who have been emphasizing the need at this week’s AIPAC conference for continued – or even increased – pressure on Iran until it takes steps to ameliorate international concerns about its nuclear program.

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