Israel celebrates seizure of Syrian rockets bound for Gaza
By: Mohamad Bdeir
Published Thursday, March 6, 2014
Israel wanted a show more than a military operation, to be exploited to the maximum in lobbying against Iran. Cameras were ready at every stage of the operation to seize a ship loaded with Syrian weapons on their way to the Palestinian resistance. It was described as the biggest interception in the last year and a half.
Israel saw this as a resumption of the relationship between Iran and resistance factions in Gaza. However, this time there was something new that worried its analysts. According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, "the Syrians are devoting their efforts for such smuggling operations, despite the civil war in their country."
According to the Israeli account, a force made up of several sea vessels, headed by fighters from the Shayetet 13 marine commandos, raided a ship carrying an arms shipment making its way from Iran to the Gaza Strip.
The operation was conducted on the Red Sea at 5:30 Wednesday morning, around 100 km from Port Sudan, where the ship was scheduled to dock and unload its cargo, to then be transported by land to Gaza.
The seized ship with the arms cargo is a commercial vessel called Klos C, carrying a Panamanian flag and with a crew of 17, mostly from Turkey. According to preliminary investigations, the sailors were not aware of the Iranian cargo, which was camouflaged inside cement bags carrying the insignia, "Made in Iran."
According to Israeli sources, the seized cargo was made up of thirty M302 mid-range surface-to-surface missiles, in addition to other less important weapons and ammunition.
The operation was supervised by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Israeli Chief of Staff Moshe Gantz, who were present in person at the Israeli Army High Command in Tel Aviv.
Throughout Wednesday, Israeli television channels broadcast footage taken by the Israeli army on board the seized ship. One of them showed Israeli marines standing on top of a wooden cart with a rocket inside.
Israeli reports indicated the operation was due to sensitive intelligence concerning the smuggling of high caliber weapons to Gaza. Haaretz quoted a senior army officer saying that the missiles originated in Syria. He maintained that they were flown from Damascus airport to Tehran and then transported through trucks to Bandar Abbas Port on the Persian Gulf. They were loaded and camouflaged in containers, which were then loaded onto the ship. It first headed towards Iraq and then turned around and sailed to Port Sudan.
The Israeli officer indicated the shipment was destined to reach Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip. Smugglers were supposed to receive the shipment in the Sudanese port and then carry them through the borders to Eritrea, then to Sinai, then to Egyptian Rafah, and finally to Gaza. Statements and comments by army officials lacked any specifics about the organizations in Gaza were supposed to receive the shipment. However, another Israeli newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, said it was most likely destined for Islamic Jihad and not Hamas.
Yediot Ahronot's website indicated that discussions concerning the ship's interception started two weeks ago in the political and security mini-cabinet. It held a series of intensive meetings, which lasted for hours and forced the ministers to change their daily schedules.
According to the site, intelligence about the operation was presented in the meetings, in addition to potential options. They also discussed the concerns and complications that usually accompany such operations. The ministers were asked to endorse a number of plans and decide on how the army should act to control the ship, in light of fears about the presence of many pirate ships in the area where the operation would take place.
Once the operation was announced midday Wednesday, Israeli officials began making statements focusing on Iran's role in the smuggling operation. "At the same time that it is talking to world powers, at the same time that Iran is smiling and saying all kinds of honeyed words, that same Iran is sending lethal weapons to terrorist organizations and it is doing so in a complex web of covert, worldwide operations," said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was on a visit to the United States.
A rocket that could destroy a building
The M302 missile, allegedly seized by Israel in the dozens from Klos-C, is a surface to surface missile, which Syria began developing in the 1990s. It produced several models varying in terms of the size of the warhead. According to Israeli media reports, the model intercepted on Wednesday was an A302, which is five meters long and with a total weight of 500 kilograms. It has a range of 90 kilometers and carries a 170 kilogram warhead.
Israeli experts maintained the seized rockets are very similar to those launched by Hezbollah in the direction of Haifa, Hadera, and Afula, in the "second Lebanese war" in 2006. Tal Inbar, head of the Space and UAV Research Center at Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies in Israel, said these rockets can reach most of the inhabited areas in Israel. This means that millions of Israelis will be under the threat range of the rockets, including those in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Dimona.
"A strike by this type of rocket could be very hard... It could destroy an entire building," Israeli analysis said. "If the smuggling operation had succeeded, we would be speaking of a new balance of deterrence, where the [Palestinian] organizations would be able to make Israel think twice about any military operation in the Gaza Strip."
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.