Tuesday, March 15, 2011

IDF seizes weapons ship from Iran to Gaza via Turkey, Egypt

From JPost:
The IDF seized a freighter ship with dozens of tons of weaponry from Iran headed for Hamas in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday.

The ship, known as Victoria, was flying a Liberian flag, and was seized by the navy in the Meditteranean Sea, 200 miles off of Israel's coast.

The Victoria was boarded by commandos from the Israely Navy's Flotilla 13, also known as the Shayetet, and is expected to arrive in the Ashdod port on Tuesday evening.

An initial inspection of the cargo revealed the ship was carrying weapons. The exact amount is to be determined.

The crew, questioned by the Navy Commando, was not aware that the cargo contained weaponry.

The ship set sail last night from Turkey, and was expected to dock in Alexandria. There, it was supposed to unload the weapons, which would travel by land to Gaza. The IDF's assessment is that the weapons did not originate in Turkey, but that the containers were unloaded there and transferred onto the Victoria.

"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," an IDF statement read.

Gantz updated Defense Minister Ehud Barak about the findings on-board the vessel earlier in the 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," the statement said.

In addition, the government of Liberia, whose flag it was flying under, was notified, as well as France, due to the French shipping company.

In November 2009, the Israeli Navy seized the Francop cargo ship, which was carrying 500 tons of weaponry from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon, including Katyusha rockets and grenades. At the time, IDF officers said the amount was enough to sustain Hezbollah for several weeks of war.
This means that Turkey was at least somewhat complicit as the weapons were reloaded there and allowed to ship from there.

And that the assumption in this episode is that was that the new Egyptian authorities would not be checking shipments going through Rafah for weapons, the way that Mubarak's regime did. Whether they would actively assist Hamas is unclear.

Welcome to the new, democratic Middle East.

UPDATE: YNet says:
A preliminary probe suggests the ship's crew was not aware of the weapons concealed on board the vessel.

On its way from Syria to Alexandria, Egypt the ship docked at Turkey's Mersin Port. It is estimated that the weapons on board were intended for terror groups operating in the Gaza Strip.

Turkey was in no way connected to the ship as far as the IDF is aware. The seizure of the vessel was authorized by the government.
Turkey's reaction will speak volumes.