Video: Israel Navy Chief – Hezbollah-Bound Iran Ship Carried Hundreds of Tons of Arms


iran-ship[Video below.] Israel Navy Chief Brig. Gen. Rani Ben-Yehuda said today that an arms ship seized near Cyprus earlier in the day had been carrying hundreds of tons of weapons. Israeli commandos seized the ship before dawn today and defense officials said it had been carrying missiles and rockets bound for Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas, believed to have come from Iran.Israel and Hezbollah fought a bitter war in the summer of 2006 that ended with a United Nations-brokered cease-fire.

Today’s pre-dawn seizure in the waters near Cyprus was bigger than a similar haul in 2002, when Israeli military confiscated Karine A, a vessel with 50 tons of missiles, mortars, rifles and ammunition headed for Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

Ben-Yehuda said that the ship had been carrying 40 containers filled with 300 tons of weapons each, all meant for Hezbollah in order to pose a threat to Israel.

During a press conference today, the navy commander described the operation, saying that the Antigua-flagged ship was first detected during a routine patrol. In coordination with NATO ships, the ship’s crew was questioned and a request for a closer inspection was presented to them. Defense officials encountered no resistance in boarding the ship. An inspection of the ship’s documents revealed that the ship was carrying several containers of weapons originating from Iran and headed for Syria.

A random check of the containers revealed weapons, the navy chief explained, especially rockets hidden inside containers belonging to the Iranian commercial fleet.

Ben-Yehuda refused to divulge whether Israel had any prior intelligence regarding the ship’s cargo, saying that “we have ongoing intelligence indicating that Iran is continuously supporting Hezbollah and other organizations with massive quantities of weapons.” He said that no anti-aircraft or anti-tank missiles have been found aboard the ship.

After the initial search on board the ship, the navy towed the freighter to Israel, where it conducted a thorough inspection of the cargo, the IDF said.

Intelligence agencies had surveilled the vessel for a number of days leading up to the raid. The decision to seize the ship was made following a recommendation by top IDF brass and was approved by the country’s most senior echelon.

In addition, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were kept abreast of preparations for the raid over the course of a few days.

“There were Katyusha (rockets), whose purpose is to hit civilians,” Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai told Army Radio.

He did not give any quantities, voicing doubt its crew knew munitions were on aboard.

Asked if the weaponry had been earmarked for Hezbollah, Vilnai said: “Yes. It strengthens (the group) and improves its long-range firing capability into Israel.”

Netanyahu released a statement saying that the weapons found on board the ship were intended to harm Israel’s cities and town. He hailed the IDF and the Navy for the operation.

Barak praised the capture of the ship. Barak congratulated IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Navy Commander Admiral Eliezer Marom for the ship’s seizure.

“This is another success in the endless struggle against attempts to smuggle weapons and military equipment whose goal is to strengthen terrorist elements who threaten the security of Israel,” the defense minister said. “I congratulate the IDF troops for the successful operation.”

Following the raid, ministers in the diplomatic-security cabinet convened for a special session, where they were given an intelligence and operational briefing on the details of the seizure.

Since the conclusion of Operation Cast Lead, last winter’s three-week military offensive against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, the Navy and the Israel Air Force have conducted routine and extensive patrols and reconnaissance in the Mediterranean and Red Sea.

The military seeks to intercept ships bearing arms intended for Hamas and Hezbollah. As part of these efforts, the Navy has deployed warships through the Suez Canal.

Click below for a video report of the siezure of the arms ship:

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{Reuters/Haaretz/Yair Israel}