How Israel Avoided Another Marmara-style Media Debacle

IDF Spokesperson's team worked with naval forces to document the takeover of Gaza-bound ship carrying Iranian missiles.

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It took only a few minutes for Israeli naval commandos to seize the freighter Klos C, the Israel Navy’s missile ships intelligence officer, Major Ran Steigman, told Haaretz Thursday. The crew did not resist and was very surprised, Steigman said.

Before the commandos boarded the vessel, the Israeli missile ship hailed the captain of the freighter, informing him that his ship was suspected of carrying arms. “He seemed surprised and apparently did not understand the extent of the incident, until we let him into a shipping container so he could see the contents,” Steigman said about the captain, who is Turkish.

The army believes that the ship’s crew is completely uninvolved in the large shipment of arms the Klos C is carrying, and according to a senior navy officer, they realize that they were misled by forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. So far the navy has found dozens of rockets, which it is believed are a less advanced form of the M-302, which has a range of about 90 kilometers. However, an intelligence official added that the rockets have a significantly larger warhead than those currently in the Gaza Strip.

A few hours after the seizure of the ship on Wednesday, the navy stopped its search for additional weapons on board due to safety concerns. Meanwhile, the crew members have been separated in their quarters from the Israeli personnel who are taking the ship into port in Israel. The Israeli naval personnel are providing food and water to the crew and a medical team is also on board.

A senior officer taking part in the operation said that the navy selected the point at which to take over the ship, about 100 nautical miles from Port Sudan in the Red Sea, both because of sea and wind conditions and the realization that this is an area where most ships tend to lower their level of preparedness against pirates. It was also decided to hail the ship on a familiar international channel.

“We are not pirates, we are fighting maritime terror. We did it this way intentionally, on an open channel,” the senior officer said.

Throughout the entire operation an IDF Spokesperson’s team worked parallel to the naval forces to document the action. Sources in the navy said that this was a result of lessons learned from previous incidents, among them the takeover of the Mavi Marmara in 2010. “People in distant places should know this and everyone is talking about it, and this was explained to the soldiers and officers here so they would understand that it’s okay for a camera to be wandering around among them,” Steigman said.

The approximately 300 soldiers involved in the operation are expected to reach the Eilat Port on Saturday along with the Klos C. “There is still readiness and the level of tension is high. There is a saying in the navy – until we tie up at the quay, the voyage isn’t over, and that’s the way we’re treating this incident,” Steigman said. “We have a clear understanding that we prevented major damage and that is huge.”

After the ship arrives, bomb disposal crews together with the navy will begin dismantling the containers on the ship and locating all the arms hidden within.

On-camera IDF soldiers examining the weaponry found onboard the Klos C.Credit: Screenshot from IDF Spokespersons Office

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