Fears escalate over weapons flow from Iran

An Israeli guard at Ashdod docks watches over the Iranian arms seized from the ship bound for Syria

An Israeli guard at Ashdod docks watches over the Iranian arms seized from the ship bound for Syria

A missile trial by Hamas last week and a successful seizure of a ship laden with rockets bound for Hizbollah on Wednesday show that the illegal shipments of arms from Iran to terror groups are continuing at full throttle.

On Tuesday, commander of the IDF Intelligence Branch, Major General Amos Yadlin, told a session of the Knesset Foreign and Defence Affairs Committee that Hamas had staged a trial firing of a missile capable of hitting targets 60km away. This would put Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion Airport within Hamas’s range.

The trial took place under the cover of a rainstorm on Thursday but the IDF succeeded in detecting the missile fired into the Mediterranean. Israeli intelligence has believed for a few months that more advanced missiles have been smuggled into the Gaza Strip through the tunnels under the Egyptian border. According to intelligence assessments, the missile is of Iranian design.

Iran is certainly the source of the arms seized from a German-owned ship flying the Antiguan flag that was commandeered in the eastern Mediterranean by Israeli missile boats in the early hours of Wednesday.

The 36 containers, belonging to the Iranian national shipping company and with more than 300 tons of armaments hidden behind sacks of polyethylene, were loaded onto the ship in an Egyptian port en route to the Syrian port of Latakia. The ship had departed a week earlier from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas and travelled through the Straits of Hormuz and the Suez Canal. The Polish and Cypriot crew members were not aware of the nature of their cargo, which was hidden among 400 other containers.

The captain allowed Israeli naval commandos on board the ship for what seemed a routine inspection, but once the containers were opened, the ship was diverted to the port of Ashdod, where the weapons were unloaded. The IDF believes that this sea route is the main channel used by Iran and Syria to smuggle arms to Hizbollah.

This is the largest illegal arms ship ever to be seized by Israel and the IDF is convinced that it was meant to be shipped from Syria to Hizbollah in Lebanon.

The shipment included thousands of mid-range rockets made in Iran and Russia, anti-tank artillery shells, mortar bombs, hand grenades and Kalashnikov rifle ammunition.

    Last updated: 4:42pm, November 5 2009