YNet News (Link) - Boaz Fyler (March 15, 2011)
IDF estimates some 50 tons of weapons found on Gaza-bound ‘Victoria’ vessel intercepted by commandoes; Rear Admiral Ben-Yehuda says Chinese-made C-704 anti-ship missiles would have threatened Israeli sea-based strategic installations, navy vessels had they reached Strip. Containers were loaded after Iranian ships docked in Syria two weeks ago, he adds.
IDF commandoes who seized the “Victoria” vessel some 200 nautical miles off Israel’s coast found 50 tons of weapons in containers that were meant to hold cotton and lentils, roughly the same amount that was found on the Karin A, the army said Tuesday evening.
During a briefing on the takeover of the Gaza-bound ship, Deputy Navy Commander Rear Admiral Rani Ben-Yehuda said the Iranian ships that had crossed the Suez Canal a few weeks ago were connected to the arms smuggling attempt.
“This morning a Shayatet 13 vessel identified - some 200 miles off Israel’s coast - a ship that was making its way from the Turkish port of Mersin to the Alexandria port in Egypt. The (IDF) force questioned the captain of the ship regarding the ship’s destination and cargo, and following an initial examination of the vessel’s route, which showed that it docked in a Turkish port and prior to that in a port in Beirut, the force asked to conduct a more thorough check of the ship. He fully cooperated,” Ben-Yehuda told reporters.
“Everything was conducted in accordance with international law and the procedure pertaining to vessels that are suspected of carrying illegal cargo. The prime minister (Benjamin Netanyahu) and the defense minister (Ehud Barak) authorized the operation,” he said.
According to the Navy, soldiers who searched the ship found numerous 60 and 120-millimeter mortar shells, as well as two to four Chinese-made C-704 anti-ship missiles with a 35-kilometer range. Had they reached Gaza, the missiles would have threatened Israeli sea-based strategic installations and navy vessels, Ben-Yehuda said.
He added that weapons were smuggled from Iran to Syria, where the ship collected them on its way to Turkey and then sailed to Egypt.
Ben-Yehuda also presented a Farsi-language manual for the missiles found among the vessel’s cargo, which apparently links Iran to the arms smuggling attempt. He stressed that he is convinced that neither Turkey nor Egypt knew what was hidden on the “Victoria.”
“This was not merely a smuggling attempt, but a clear attempt to arm the terror organizations and change the situation in the entire region,” said the rear admiral.
Ben-Yehuda said the army suspects two Iranian ships which docked in Syria’s Latakia port two weeks ago were connected to the smuggling attempt. “The containers were loaded in Latakia after the (Iranian) vessels were there,” he said, adding that the ship’s crew did not know it was carrying weapons.
“To say that we intercept everything that is sent to Gaza would be arrogant. This affair underscores our need to inspect ships in accordance with international law,” Rear Admiral Rani Ben-Yehuda stated. †