Israel seizes arms smuggling ship bound for Gaza
During the predawn hours Tuesday morning, Israeli commandoes boarded and seized control of a ship sailing in international waters with a cargo of advanced weapons bound for the Gaza Strip.
The Victoria was flying a Liberian flag at the time, but is German-owned and French-operated. Israel had been monitoring the ship for the past week. When it departed from Latakia, Syria on Monday, Israeli intelligence accurately assessed that it was carrying a cargo of illicit arms.
The ship docked in Turkey later on Monday, presumably to deflect attention, before sailing south toward Egypt.
The Israeli navy intercepted the ship as it passed some 200 miles off Israel’s Mediterranean coast. Navy commanders were able to contact the captain of the Victoria, who granted permission for Israeli troops to board his ship. The Israelis met no resistance, and were quickly provided all documentation regarding the ship’s cargo.
Of course, that documentation was falsified. According to the ship’s manifest, it was carrying cotton and lentils. But inside the crates, the Israelis found the following:
- 230 120-mm mortar shells
- 2,270 60-mm mortar shells
- 6 C-704 anti-ship missiles with a range of 20 miles
- 2 UK-made radar systems for use with the missiles
- 2 advanced launchers for use with the missiles
- 66,960 Kalashnikov bullets
And to top it all off, the instruction manuals included with the missiles were written in Farsi, providing strong evidence that Iran was trying to further arm Gaza-based terrorist organizations.
Two weeks ago, two Iranian navy vessels passed through the Suez Canal and docked in Latakia, before heading back to the Persian Gulf. Israel does not know for sure, but the likelihood is high that those ships were delivering the very arms cache Israel intercepted on Tuesday.
The Victoria was docked in the Israeli port of Ashdod on Wednesday, and the Israeli army will be publicly displaying the weapons found onboard.
Israel notified France and Germany of the operation, due to the ownership of the ship and the nationality of the crew. Israel does not believe that Turkey or Egypt had any knowledge of or role in the smuggling attempt.
The incident further justifies Israel’s maritime embargo against the Gaza Strip, and its interception of cargo and other large ships trying to reach the Hamas-ruled territory.