Israel Seizes Ship Carrying Rockets From Iran to Gaza

By:  Warren Mass
Israel Seizes Ship Carrying Rockets From Iran to Gaza

The Israeli Navy intercepted and boarded a cargo ship in international waters in the Red Sea on March 5, seizing a shipment that included Syrian-made M-302 rockets that the ship picked up in Iran. The ship was destined for Sudan, from which the rockets would presumably be moved by land across Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula to Gaza.

The ship, KLOS-C, a general cargo vessel registered in Panama, was sailing off the coasts of Sudan and Eritrea, more than 1,000 miles south of Israel, when it was boarded, Israeli Defense Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner told reporters.

The Associated Press cited Lerner’s statement that the M-302 rockets have a range of up to 100 miles, and if based in Gaza would put nearly all of Israel in their range — greatly improving the capabilities of Gaza militants. At present, the militants can reach only about 50 miles into Israel with their domestically produced M-75 missiles. Lerner noted that the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah used M-302s in a 2006 war against Israel.

Gaza has been ruled since 2007 by Hamas, the more militant faction of the Palestinian National Authority that took control of the narrow strip of land from Fatah. Fatah claims authority over Gaza but controls only the West Bank area of Palestine. Hamas is recognized as a terrorist organization by most Western countries.

An article in the Jerusalem Post on March 5 quoted a statement from Taher al-Nono, identified as an adviser to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who said of the ship’s seizure: “This is a new Israeli lie aimed to justify and prolong the blockade of Gaza.” The Hamas statement also called the Israeli announcement of the seizure a “silly joke.”

“Full Disclosure,” the Israeli intelligence operation that uncovered the details of the shipment, involved months of intelligence gathering, explained Lerner. Israeli intelligence learned that the shipment originated in Syria and was then flown to Iran. The rockets were loaded onto the KLOS-C in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf. The IDF spokesman said the Iranians tried to “obscure their tracks” by shipping first via Iraq, where the ship picked up cement, and then by sea to Sudan.

The Israelis do not regard the ship’s crew as suspects, since they were apparently unaware of the nature of the cargo. The vessel is being brought to the port of Eilat, at Israel’s southernmost point on the Gulf of Aqaba, the northern terminus of the Red Sea. Once docked, the crew will be released and the shipment unloaded.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is visiting the United States this week, made the following statement from California when he heard the news:

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Photo of rocket seized aboard KLOS-C by Israeli Navy: AP Images

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