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In supplying a huge quantity of weaponry, including long-range rockets, to the Palestinian Authority, the regime of Ali Khamenei in Iran was attempting to create a Hezbollah-like, southern Lebanon situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in a way that would pose a strategic threat to Israel.

That is the conclusion of the Israel Defense Forces General Staff, following a perusal of the initial findings of the team investigating the "Karine A" - the ship carrying 50 tons of weaponry and headed for the Palestinian Authority, which was intercepted by naval commandos last Thursday in the Red Sea.

Some of the contacts between the PA and Iran were conducted in Iran itself, some through Hezbollah, but the investigation reveals unequivocally that the Iranian supply of weapons was part of a PA project, and that the shipment was bound for the PA and not Hezbollah. According to a senior IDF officer, Hezbollah has no need for the type of weaponry aboard the "Karine A." What's more, the airlifting of weapons from Teheran to Damascus, which was stopped for a period a few months ago, partly because Hezbollah's arsenal was full, resumed toward the end of 2001.

According to information passed last week to the heads of the defense establishment, Iran is accelerating development of an inter-continental ballistic missile, with a range of 10,000 kilometers, which is based on the North Korean missile "Taep's-Dong 2." The first test of this missile, which can carry a nuclear, chemical or biological warhead, is expected in 2004. The Iranian missile is expected to pose a threat to the United States, its forces around the globe, and its allies.

All the weapons so far removed from the "Karine A" are manufactured by Iran - including items exclusively produced by Iranian military industries like the two-headed, armor-piercing "Tandem" anti-tank missile. The notion that Israeli-produced weapons, which were once sold to Iran, are likely to be found on the ship, has yet to be verified.

The General Staff assessment is that that type of weaponry found on the boat signifies the Palestinian intention, with Iran's aid, to escalate terror to unprecedented levels. Hundreds of 107-mm. rockets with a range of 80 kilometers; dozens of 122-mm. rockets with a range of 20 kilometers; mortars with hundreds of bombs - all these were intended to attack Israeli townships, all over the country, in a variety of ranges of steep-trajectory weapons. On board the ship were also found a ton and a half of C4 explosives, which are much deadlier than the improvised explosives used by the Palestinians so far in suicide bombings. Five kilograms of C4 are enough to cause many casualties; the amount of material found on the ship was enough for 300 suicide bombers.

The takeover of the "Karine A" ended intelligence surveillance of the ship and yielded a large amount of concrete information from the investigation of the ship's crew. The information shows with certainty that the ship was purchased by Adal Mugrabi, the head of the PA's procurement department, and that the acquisition was supervised by Omar Acawi, a colonel in the PA naval police, and Fathi Razam, the deputy commander of the PA's naval police. The purchase was financed by PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's senior finance official, Fuad Shubaki.

The ship was purchased in Bulgaria for $400,000 and was brought to Port Sudan, where it was joined by the crew from Cairo. In Sudan, the ship was loaded with regular cargo, which was unloaded in Dubai, en route to the Iranian-owned island of Kish, where it was loaded with the weapons. From there, it continued to the Red Sea, in an attempt to cross the Suez Canal and to unload the weapons in floating containers in the direction of Gaza and El Arish.

The nine Jordanian and Egyptian crew members on board the ship were not let in on the secret. During the loading of the ship near Kish, one of the crates broke and its contents fell out on board the ship. The seamen who saw the weapons said that they wanted to go ashore. Their commanders, four Palestinians including one who was trained by the Hezbollah naval wing, told them that from that point on, "there is only one way to get off the ship - with a bullet in the head."

The seamen are expected to be returned to their home countries at the end of their investigation.