Naval Raid on Gaza-bound Arms Ship Blocks Smuggling Route, Says Senior Officer

Intelligence officer adds, however, that new weapons shipment routes will be found; says alarm bells rang when army identified weapons were sent from Syria to Iran.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

A senior Israeli Military Intelligence official said on Thursday that Wednesday’s seizure in the Red Sea of a ship carrying rockets will end smuggling attempts using this route for some time to come. At a press briefing the officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the weapons shipment on the Klos C was the first after a long period during which arms smuggling through the Red Sea was prevented.

“There will be a halt of many months [to smuggling] on this route, since their sophisticated operation was in effect totally unraveled,” the officer said. He added, however, that smuggling efforts using other routes would presumably be renewed in the future.

MI chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi said at a press conference Thursday that an MI unit had been following for months an Iranian attempt to smuggle rockets to the Gaza Strip, adding, “We have a great deal of evidence tying Iran to the affair.” Kochavi said that what “ignited the intelligence process” was the identification of a shipment of rockets from Syria to Iran, rather than the other way around, as logic would seem to dictate. U.S. intelligence services were informed of Israel’s monitoring of the rocket shipment. Senior Israel Defense Forces officials said they were confident that the rockets were headed for the Gaza Strip, but declined to say which terror organization was the intended recipient.

As of early Thursday evening the Klos C, under the control of the Israel Navy, was about 500 nautical miles from Eilat. The navy suspended further searches for weapons on the ship, to avoid fires. Dozens of rockets were discovered on the ship. They are though to be a less advanced version of the M-302 rocket, with a range of about 90 kilometers. But an intelligence source noted that the warheads of these rockets are significantly larger and more robust than those currently in possession of terror organizations in the Gaza Strip.

A senior officer who took part in Wednesday’s naval raid, speaking with reporters by video-conference, talked about the great complexity and “tactical, strategic and international significance” of the operation. He said two Israel Navy missile boats, the Hanit and the Hetz, had tracked the weapons ship since last week. He said the site for the raid, about 100 nautical miles from Port Sudan, was chosen because of the condition of the sea at the time and because it was a place where ships tended to lower their level of alert against attacks by pirates. Before Israel Navy commandos boarded the ship, the Israeli boats made contact with the Klos C over an international communications channel. “We are not pirates, we have fought against marine terror. We deliberately did it that way, over an open channel,” the officer said.

“When I open the container and see a green rocket lying there comfortably, I see the same threat and the same fear. That the rocket is waiting for the terror organizations to launch it at Tel Aviv.” In talks with the ship’s crew it became clear that they didn’t know about the missile shipment, and according to the officer, they realize that in effect they were duped by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. The commandos showed the ship’s captain, who is Turkish, the rockets in the hold of the ship, and according to the officers at the site he said that they had deceived him, that he was part of a conspiracy.

On-camera IDF soldiers examining the weaponry found onboard the Klos C.Credit: Screenshot from IDF Spokespersons Office
Map showing where the ship was seized.

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