Credit the Israeli Naval Commandos of Sayeret 13 and missile boats with another coup seizing the Panamanian flagged vessel, the KLOS-C packed with clearly marked Iranian M302 Rockets bound ultimately for Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. You may recall the Sayeret 13 boarded the Turkish ferry the Mavi Mamara in the May 2010 Free Gaza Flotilla. This time Iran has used Syria for transshipment of a consignment of M302 rockets via Iraq in the Persian Gulf. The raid on the KLOS-C occurred in the Red Sea off Port Sudan just before off loading for shipment to Gaza via Salafist Jihadist helpers in the Egyptian Sinai peninsula . The M302 rockets have a range of 200 KM threatening all of the populous central Israel.
Watch this IDF video of the KLOS-C seizure of Iranian M302 rockets:
The Jerusalem and Washington Post accounts note this most recent episode in a more than 14 year history of IDF seizures, a credit to diligent naval intelligence as well as Israel’s special operations prowess. Here are some excerpts from the Washington Post report :
The ship, the KLOS C, was carrying Syrian-made M-302 rockets and was intercepted more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) south of Israel off the coasts of Sudan and Eritrea, military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner told reporters.
Previously, Gaza militants have only been able to reach about 50 miles (80 kilometers) into Israel with their homegrown M-75 missiles. Hezbollah used M-302s in a 2006 war against Israel, the military said.
The operation, codenamed “Full Disclosure,” followed months of intelligence gathering. Lerner said the shipment originated in Syria. From there the weapons were flown to Iran and departed from the Bandar Abbas port. Lerner said the Iranians tried to “obscure their tracks” by shipping first via Iraq and then out to sea. The shipment was destined for Sudan, from where it was to be moved overland through Egypt to Gaza.
Lerner said the 17 crew members of the ship, flying under a Panama flag, were not suspects and were probably unaware of the content of their cargo. The vessel was being brought to the port of Eilat, Israel’s most southerly point, where the crew would be released and the cache unloaded. It was expected to arrive later this week.
The Washington Post chronicled the more than decade history of Israeli Naval seizures and air strikes against Iranian weapons shipments to Gaza:
Three years ago, Israel seized the cargo ship Victoria loaded with weapons allegedly sent by Iran to Gaza , including land-to-sea missiles.
In November 2009, Israel took over the Iranian Francop vessel off the coast of Cyprus and captured hundreds of tons of rockets, missiles, mortars, grenades and anti-tank weapons on board that it said were headed to Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.
Israel is also suspected of carrying out airstrikes in Sudan on arms shipments believed to be bound for Gaza. Israel has never confirmed carrying out the strikes.
In January 2002, Israeli forces stormed the Karine A freighter on the Red Sea, and confiscated what the military said was 50 tons of missiles, mortars, rifles and ammunition headed for the Gaza Strip.
In May 2001, Israel captured the vessel Santorini off its coastline, packed with explosives Israel said were being sent from Hezbollah to Palestinian militant groups.
The Jerusalem Post report drew attention to Iran’s use of Syria for transshipment of rockets and others strategic weapons to terrorist proxies in the Middle East:
The IDF Spokesman’s Unit said that the operation was made possible by inter-agency intelligence cooperation and the IDF’s enhanced capabilities. “This prevented the arrival of a shipment of deadly and advanced weapons, which was aimed at harming Israeli civilians, and intended to reach the terrorist organizations of the Gaza Strip who are waging confrontation against Israel.”
The spokesman added that special commando navy teams acted in accordance with international law during the raid and boarded the ship for armed searches before uncovering the rockets.
Iran flew the rockets to an Iranian air field, trucked them to a sea port, and shipped them to Iraq, where they were hidden in cement sacks.
The ship then set sail from Iraq to Port Sudan, near the Sudanese-Eritrean border, on a journey expected to last some ten days.
Had the shipment of rockets not been intercepted the rockets would likely have been unloaded in Egypt and taken by land over Sinai to smuggling tunnels into Gaza.
One day before reaching its destination, the Israel Navy pounced, raiding the vessel and bringing it under its full control. There were no injuries in the incident.
“We have certain proof that Iran was behind this,” a senior military source said.
“The final destination was the Gaza Strip, where Iran hoped to unload the rockets and transfer them to terrorist organizations,” he added.
Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and smaller groups are constantly working to build up their rocket arsenal, and are believed to have several thousand short range rockets that threaten southern cities and dozens of medium-range rockets that can reach greater Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.
By the end of 2013, Hamas was estimated by Israeli intelligence to possess 5000 short-range rockets and dozens of medium-range rockets, placing 70 percent of Israeli civilians in its range.
Gaza today has some 25,000 armed fighters. Of those, 16,000 belong to Hamas divisions. The Islamic Jihad has 5,000 fighters, split up into five divisions, and is armed with more than 2,000 rockets. Smaller terror groups have over 4,000 terrorists among their ranks, and are armed with dozens of rockets, as well as a large quantity of light arms.
In addition to replenishing its rocket arsenal, Hamas is trying to create capabilities to launch terror attacks, and possesses anti-aircraft missiles as well.