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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Israel Seizes Syrian Ship Bringing Iranian Weapons To Gaza

Early Tuesday morning (Israel Time), IDF fighters boarded the cargo ship Victoria at sea, then 200 miles out from Israel.

The Victoria is a German-owned vessel, operated by a French operating company, and flying the Liberian flag. The commando unit executed this raid was Shayetet 13. Shayetet 13 is the commando unit that was involved in the Mavi Marmara raid last year. The Mavi Marmara was the terrorist-carrying ship which created an international incident when it tried to run the Israeli blockade of Gaza. (AKA the Guerilla Floatilla).

The boarding was based upon confirmed intelligence that the vessel was carrying illicit arms destined for terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip. It sailed Monday night from the Syrian port of Lattakai bound for Turkey. There, it was supposed to unload the weapons, which would be conveyed by land to Gaza. Lattakai is the same port where two Iranian war ships docked in February after traversing the Suez Canal. At the time, IDF officials raised concerns of the possibility that they were carrying weapons intended for terrorists organizations, but there was no confirmation.

"The operation was approved as necessary in accordance with government directives in light of Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz's recommendations, said Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, Head of the Foreign Press Branch during a conference call this morning. Gantz updated Defense Minister Ehud Barak about the findings on-board the vessel Tuesday morning. "The IDF and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs alerted German authorities about the interception of the "Victoria" due to the German ownership of the ship."

In addition, the government of Liberia, whose flag it was flying under, was notified, as well as France, due to the French shipping company. The Israeli Navy has conducted numerous operations over the years against Iranian smuggling to Hamas and Hezbollah. The IDF believes that that neither Egypt nor Turkey has any connection to the ship's cargo. The evidence it has indicates that Syria and Iran were the main actors.

The IDF has not said yet exactly what types of weapons they found on the ship but based on what can be seen in the pictures they provided, one can assume that they could do much damage. 

According to Lt. Col. Leibovich, the most important fact here is that the IDF can draw direct line from Syria to the attempt to smuggle weapons into Gaza. The weapons are Iranian.

Lt. Col. Leibovich did not know whether the weapons were connected to the Iranian warships that passed through the Suez Canal three weeks ago. But this is a distinct possibility.

Lt. Col. Leibovich did not know whether the crew knew what they were carrying. But, it should be noted that nothing in the freight manifest of the Victoria revealed the true nature of the content of the ship's containers, in violation of the relevant provisions of the International Maritime Organization's Conventions and professional standards, including the Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG).

The IDF did not notify anyone in advance that it was going to board the ship. The IDF informed the Germans, the French, the Liberians and the Americans only after it had opened the three containers of weapons. Intriguingly, Lt. Col. Leibovich did not answer when asked whether the Germans and French knew what was on the ships when they were contacted.

This raises some concerns for the world community,especially the need to prevent smuggling arms to terrorists. This attempt at smuggling large amounts of weaponry aboard the Victoria provides additional proof of Israel’s imperative need to examine all goods entering the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Israel cannot allow weapons and military equipment to reach the hands of terrorists, who will use them against its civilian population. If the world community doesn't want to act, Israel will.

As for this particular incident, Syria and Iran will complain, but the key is that Israel acted in self-defense: The illegal smuggling of arms to the Gaza Strip poses a direct and imminent threat to the safety and security of the State of Israel and its citizens, who continue to find themselves under the unceasing attack of rocket and mortar fire originating from Gaza.

This is more evidence of Iran's state sponsorship of terrorism. Preliminary evidence indicates that the weapons aboard the ship originated in Iran, which strives to arm the Gaza Strip. Under Hamas rule, the Gaza Strip has become part of the Iranian-Syrian-Hamas axis.

Keep in mind that smuggling arms to terrorists is illegal: Such transfer of weaponry to terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip constitutes a blatant violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1860(2009), which calls upon Member States to intensify efforts to "prevent illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition" to the Gaza Strip (para. 6), as well as a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1373(2001), which, inter alia, calls upon all States to refrain from the provision of any form of support to terrorist organizations and to eliminate the supply of weapons to such groups. Israel will probably try and get a UN Resolution about this violation which has very little chance of passing the anti-Israel UN Security Council. (if you cannot see video below please click here)

Even more concerning is what could be smuggled in the future. Many people argue that Iran would never use nuclear bombs should they finish their weapons program. Should those pundits be correct, there is still nothing stopping Iran from smuggling nuclear weapons to terrorists--its called plausible deniability. As one of the leaders of state sponsored terrorism, Iran could smuggle nuclear bombs to Gaza for an attack on Israel, or to their ally Venezuela for an attack on the United States

This incident shows that the Iranians will stop at nothing to get weapons in the hands of terrorists. It also proves that the west should stop at nothing to ensure that Iran does not gain a nuclear capability. We must push our government to gain the backbone to prevent that scary scenario. If not, there will be bloodshed of epic proportions.

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