Less than a week after the conclusion of Operation Pillar of Defense, and with Hamas boasting of an imminent increase in military aid from Iran, Israeli satellites have spotted a ship at the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas being loaded with rockets and other military supplies ostensibly bound for Gaza, the British Sunday Times reported.This seems to confirm a report from Debka last week. I'm not a big fan of Debka, but the level of detail in that report certainly gives pause:
The report cites Israeli intelligence sources who surmised that the cargo, loaded a week ago, would be shipped to Sudan and from there smuggled over land to Gaza.
According to the report, the cargo may include Fajr-5 rockets of the likes already fired by Hamas during the recent conflict, and whose stocks were reportedly depleted by Israeli bombings. Also possibly included: components of Shahab-3 ballistic missiles, which could be stationed in Sudan and used as a direct threat to Israel.
“With a lot of effort, Iran has skillfully built a strategic arm pointing at Israel from the south,” an Israeli source was quoted as saying.
An Iranian 150-ton freighter departed Bandar Abbas port Sunday, Nov. 18, with a cargo of 220 short-range missiles and 50 improved long-range Fajar-5 rockets for the Gaza Strip, DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources report. The ship turned toward the Bab al-Mandeb Straits and the Red Sea.Once again, everything is up to Egypt. If it wants to stop this traffic, it can. But the efforts so far have been half-hearted, and if anything, the recent turmoil in Egypt makes it seem less likely that the nation will take smuggling weapons to Hamas with the seriousness it deserves.
The new Fajar-5s have a 200-kilo warhead, which packs a bigger punch than the 175 kilos of explosives delivered by the rockets in current use with the Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip. To extend their range to cover the 85 kilometers from Gaza to Tel Aviv, Hamas removed a part of their payloads to make them lighter.
Tehran is sending the fresh supply of disassembled rockets to replenish the stocks its allies, the Palestinian Hamas and Jihad Islami, depleted in their round-the-clock attacks on Israel since Nov. 10.
To throw Israeli surveillance off the trail, the ship started its voyage called Vali-e Asr owned by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, and was quickly renamed Cargo Star and hoisted the flag of Tuvalu. This South Pacific island nation, which lies between Hawaii and Australia, has a tiny population of 11,000, most of them Polynesians. Iran provides most of its revenue since earlier this year when Prime Minister Willy Telavi agreed to register Iran’s entire tanker fleet of 22 vessels to Tuvalu, to help Tehran dodge the US-EU oil embargo.
Our intelligence sources have learned that four big Sudanese shipping boats sailed out of Port Sudan early Monday and are waiting to rendezvous with the Cargo Star and offload its missile cargo in mid-sea.
The Sudanese will then be told by Tehran whether put into Port Sudan with the missiles, or turn north and sail up the Red Sea to the Straits of Tiran to link up with Egyptian fishing boats which regularly ply this waterway in the service of Palestinian-Iranian smuggling networks. They would unload the missile cargo in a quiet inlet on the Sinai coast. From there, it would be carried to the smuggling tunnels running from Sinai under the border into the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian teams assisted by Iranian and Hizballah technicians in the Gaza Strip would then assemble the new rockets and make them operational.
Through most of the voyage, two Iranian warships, the Khark heliicopter carrier and Shahid Naqdi destroyer, which are posted permanently in the Red Sea, escorted the arms ship until the cargo changed hands.
Again, this is something concrete that the US can do to pressure Egypt. It is anyone's guess as to whether they are twisting arms or saying "pretty please."
(h/t Josh K)