Israel to Include Weapons Ship in UN Panel on Iran Arms Smuggling

Officials to discuss recently seized ship 'Victoria' during a UN review of the implementation of Resolution 1747, which forbids Iran to export arms.

The Foreign Ministry plans to file a complaint to the UN Security Council's sanctions committee over Iran's efforts to smuggle arms to the Gaza Strip.

On Wednesday, the navy showed off the arms it seized aboard the Victoria on Tuesday. The ship was intercepted en route from Syria to Egypt, whence the arms were slated to be smuggled overland to Hamas in Gaza.

Nir Kafri

Also Wednesday, the air force attacked a Hamas training facility in Gaza. Palestinians said the attack killed two members of the Islamist organization.

Over the coming days, the Foreign Ministry plans to give the sanctions committee all the information in Israel's possession about Iran's involvement in the Victoria. It will argue that this was a gross violation of Security Council Resolution 1747, which forbids Iran to export arms.

Today, the committee will hear a survey of Iranian arms smuggling efforts worldwide. Foreign Ministry sources said that over the last half year, at least five Iranian arms shipments have been seized: in Nigeria, Afghanistan, Italy, the Mediterranean Sea and Southeast Asia.

Israel also wants the Security Council to discuss Iranian arms smuggling to Hamas and Hezbollah at its monthly meeting on the Middle East next week.

The 50 tons of arms seized from the Victoria were displayed at the Ashdod Port. They were found hidden under sacks of cotton and lentils in three of the dozens of containers aboard the ship. The others contained only produce.

The arms included six C-704 shore-to-sea missiles, two launchers, computerized operating stations and two British-made coastal radars. The shipment also included 230 powerful 120mm mortar shells, which have a range of 10 kilometers; 2,260 of the smaller 60mm mortars, whose range is 2.5 kilometers; and 74,889 Kalashnikov rifle bullets.

'Shift the balance'

Navy commander Adm. Eliezer Marom said the C-704 missiles, made in Iran according to a Chinese design, are "a different type of weapon than what we have seen [in Gaza] to date. If you like, you could call them 'weapons that shift the balance.' These are weapons that can hit the navy, civilian shipping and some of the gas barges along Israel's coast."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the missiles "could change the entire nature of the activity around Gaza's coast, [could] hit ships and facilities. This is further proof that we're up against an axis comprised of Iranians, Syrians and Hezbollah, whose goal is to boost terror from the Gaza Strip."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the arms seizure "is a reply to all those who questioned, assailed and criticized Israel over the fact that it intercepted and attacked ships headed to Gaza. It is our obligation, not merely our right, to stop these ships and unload their arms."

Displaying an operating manual written in Farsi, he added, "These weapons originated in Iran. They were transferred to Syria and were en route to terrorists in Gaza, but their ultimate target was Israeli citizens."

Iran's military chief of staff denied yesterday that his country was behind the shipment.

"Israel is a regime based on a lie, and it manufactures lies and fabrications," Gen. Atallah Salhi said.

Hamas similarly denied that it was the intended recipient.

The Hamas facility that Israel attacked yesterday was located on the ruins of the former settlement of Netzarim. Palestinians said the attack was in response to a Qassam rocket launched at Israel yesterday morning.

Nevertheless, the Israeli response was unusual in that it took place during the day, when people would be inside the building. The army said this was a warning to Hamas against further attempts to smuggle in sophisticated weapons.

Meanwhile, the government has decided to release the Victoria and allow it to continue its journey to the Egyptian port of Alexandria.

An Israeli military spokeswoman in Tel Aviv would not confirm the report.