Israeli navy intercepts Iranian weapons shipment headed for Gaza
Israeli forces this morning intercepted a Panamian-flagged cargo vessel near Port Sudan in the Red Sea. The vessel, identified as the Klos-C, was carrying "advanced weaponry intended for terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip," and was shipped by Iran, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said.
According to the IDF, the weaponry on board, which included 302 mm rockets, was "concealed in between commercial cargo." The IDF has not yet tallied all of the weaponry seized, but "dozens of rockets" have been found thus far. Israeli forces are currently bringing the shipment of Klos-C to Israel, where it should arrive in about 3 days.
"We have conclusive evidence that there were rockets on board the ship, and we have proof and can say with certainty that Iran is behind this operation," a senior IDF official said.
A summary video released by the IDF said that Israeli intelligence services "several months ago" identified a weapons shipment departing Damascus International Airport. From Damascus, the weaponry was flown to Iran's capital, Tehran, where it was subsequently taken to Bandar Abbas port in southern Iran.
In Bandar Abbas, the weaponry was loaded onto the Klos-C. After departing Bandar Abbas, the Klos-C traveled to Umm Qasr port in Iraq, where additional cargo was loaded over a five day period. Following this, the vessel headed for Port Sudan, but was intercepted by Israeli naval forces in the Red Sea.
According to the IDF, the rockets would have been "smuggled via land through the Sinai Peninsula and into Gaza" had the interception not occurred. The IDF did not specify which Gaza-based terror group the rockets were destined for. Relations between Hamas and Iran have loosened in recent years as a result of differences over the Syrian conflict. Recent press reports indicate, however, that the two are currently trying to rebuild ties. Palestinian Islamic Jihad is widely viewed as Iran's primary proxy in the Gaza Strip today. Iranian officials met with PIJ's senior leadership in Beirut in January and again in Tehran in early February.
Today's operation marks at least the fourth time since 2002 that Israel has publicly announced that its forces had intercepted a sea-based Iranian weapons smuggling attempt. In 2002, Israeli forces boarded the Karine A in the Red Sea, and subsequently found 50 tons of weaponry destined for the Gaza Strip. In 2009, Israeli naval forces intercepted the MV Francop in the Mediterranean Sea and found an extensive cache of weaponry destined from Hezbollah. Two years later, Israeli forces boarded the Victoria vessel and found another cache of weaponry, including C-704 anti-ship missiles, destined for Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip.