Text size

Alluding to what foreign media reports say was an Israel Air Force strike in Sudan in January, outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned Thursday that no place is out of Israel's reach.

The air strike reportedly hit a convoy of Iranian arms passing through Sudan en route to the Gaza Strip.

Israeli officials declined to confirm or deny Israel's involvement in the air strike in Sudan. They also refused to comment on the various foreign media reports about the strike.

Any Israeli decision to attack such a distant target would likely have been based on the belief that Iran could deliver arms into Gaza, possibly including 70-kilometer-range Fajr rockets.

That range would allow Hamas operatives to strike into the heart of Israel, Tel Aviv, from their Gaza bases.

"We operate everywhere we can hit terrorist infrastructure - in nearby places, in places further away, anywhere we can strike them in a way that increases deterrence," Olmert told a conference in Herzliya.

"Everyone can use their imagination. Those who need to know, know there is no place where Israel cannot operate. Such a place doesn't exist," he said.

Channel 10 television broadcast an interview with a Sudanese minister's adviser who said that targets on or near Sudanese territory were bombed twice, and the second air strike destroyed a ship carrying Iranian arms.

Mubarak Mabrook Saleem, Sudan's State Minister for Transportation, told The Associated Press he believed American planes were behind the bombings, which he said took place about a week apart.

He also claimed hundreds of people from several African states had been killed. The U.S. denied any air strike on Sudan.

Arab and U.S. media reports said that Israel was behind the attacks, since the convoys were smuggling weapons destined for Gaza. Hamas, which rules Gaza, smuggles weapons into the Strip through tunnels along the Egyptian border.

Due to the intensive international activity to prevent arms smuggling to Gaza that followed Operation Cast Lead in the Strip earlier this year Egypt began sending forces to its border with Sudan after that operation in an effort to prevent smuggling into Gaza. The alleged Israeli air strike also contributed to Iran's decision.

The Iranians are concerned over the memorandum of understanding signed between Israel and the United States to combat smuggling into Gaza, the source said. Eight NATO members also said they would join the anti-smuggling effort.

The Iranians see the recent interception of the arms ship Monchegorsk, which was en route to Syria, as a warning of the difficulties they are likely to face in delivering arms, the source added. That ship, which was carrying arms from Iran to the Syrian army, was stopped in Cyprus following American pressure and its cargo was confiscated.

The source said the Iranians, who established smuggling networks via the Persian Gulf, Aden and east Africa, with an emphasis on Sudan. In the past the Iranians have tried to smuggle arms via Turkey. The routes planned to move weapons in planes, trucks and trains, and from Turkey to Syria and from Syria to Lebanon. A few of these shipments were caught by Turkish security services working against the smuggling.

A senior intelligence source said: "The Egyptians are patrolling the border and inspecting it," he said. "They weren't doing that until now. They started doing it because of the increased international pressure to act against the smuggling. But so far, the results are only partial."