By Aaron Klein
TEL AVIV – A ship seized by the Israeli navy near Cyprus today had been carrying enough weapons and munitions for the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist group to fight Israel for at least one month, announced Rani Ben-Yehuda, the deputy commander of Israel's navy.
The cargo ship originated in Iran and was headed for Syria, the Israeli army said. Iran regularly attempts to send weapons to Syria, and from there the shipments are smuggled to Hezbollah bases, Israeli security officials said.
Ben-Yehuda told reporters at a press conference today the ship had been carrying 40 containers filled with 300 tons of weapons each, all meant for Hezbollah to pose a threat to Israel. He said the shipment was much bigger than the famous Karin-A, a Palestinian freighter caught by Israel in 2002 carrying 50 tons of weapons to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Ben-Yehuda said the Antigua-flagged ship was first detected during a routine patrol, although Israeli security sources told WND the ship was flagged earlier. In coordination with NATO ships, the Israeli navy first boarded the ship about 100 nautical miles west of Israel.
The ship's crew were questioned and a request for a closer inspection was presented to them. Israeli naval seals found documentation showing Iran was the point of origin for some containers, with Syria as the intended destination. Upon closer inspection, the Israeli navy found several containers of weapons, including rockets.
After the initial search, the naval gun ships towed the freighter to the Israeli port of Ashdod, where the army here conducted a thorough inspection of the cargo, revealing vast quantities of weapons, the Israel Defense Forces said.
Israel Radio reported that advanced anti-aircraft platforms were also on board, although Ben-Yehuda did not confirm it. Still, Ben-Yehuda called the shipment "very advanced weaponry."
Ben-Yehuda refused to divulge whether Israel had any prior intelligence regarding the ship's cargo, saying that "we have ongoing intelligence indicating that Iran is continuously supporting Hezbollah and other organizations with massive quantities of weapons."
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned today's shipment was just a small part of Iran's efforts to arm Hezbollah.
"Tonight we seized a ship that smuggled arms to the terrorist zone in the south. Iran, via its proxies Hamas, Hezbollah and others, is trying to hurt the heart of the civilian population in Israel.In a visit to Iran, Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem dismissed Israeli allegations the ship carried arms.
"With what we know of the arena, there will be more attempts (to smuggle weapons), and we must invest efforts to thwart them. At night, we dealt with thwarting (arms smuggling), and in the morning we continue our efforts to achieve peace," Barak said.
"Unfortunately, some pirates sometimes take action in the name of inspection and prevent the sailing of commercial ships," he was quoted as saying by the state IRNA news agency during a visit today. "This ship was carrying goods from Syria heading to Iran and was not carrying weapons making materials."It was unclear why Moallem said the ship departed from Syria when Israel said it departed from Iran and headed to Syria.
Israeli Navy Captures Arms Ship - Wall Street Journal
Israeli Commandos Seize Hezbollah-bound Ship - AP
Arms ship: How Iran tried to dupe Israeli intelligence - Ynetnews
Israel seizes arms ‘bound for Hizbollah’ - Financial Times
The Late Great State of Israel: How Enemies Within and Without Threaten the Jewish Nation's Survival - Aaron Klein (Book)