Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the media in front of a stockpile of seized weapons in Eilat on Monday. Israeli intelligence had been tracking the weapons which were flown from Damascus to Tehran and then put on a Panamanian flagged ship. The arsenal was ultimately captured last week by the Israeli Navy in the Red Sea near Port Sudan and taken to Israel for further examination. The shipment contained 40 M-302 missiles as well as 400,000 rifle shells and 180 mortar rounds.
Israel believes the weapons were bound for Gaza via smuggling tunnels in Egypt. Islamic Jihad a terrorist group with stronger ties to Iran, and not Hamas, was the most likely intended recipient. However, smuggling the missiles over land has become somewhat more difficult since the Egyptian security crackdown in the Sinai region. For this reason, some analysts speculate the shipment was not actually going to Gaza, but would stay with terrorists in the Sinai. No matter where the shipment was meant to go, M-302 missiles have a range of roughly 100 miles and would have inflicted major damage over wide swaths of civilian territory, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa – or Cairo – if successfully launched.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with dozens of seized rockets displayed behind him. (Photo: AP)
Netanyahu chose to display the weapons in order to expose the hypocrisy of the international community toward Iran. A interim nuclear peace deal has led the international community to downplay the fact that Iran is funding and supplying terrorist groups with lethal weapons. During a cabinet meeting the Israeli Prime Minister specifically called on EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton to ask Iran about the stockpile during her visit to Tehran. Israeli officials remain skeptical that she will do so and that their warnings will change her calculus.
Netanyahu has also asked the United States to enact more sanctions on Iran and up the pressure on Tehran to dismantle its nuclear program. Five days after the ship was captured, the White House issued a condemnation of Iran, but did not suggest any further American action. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney did, however, announce that U.S. intelligence forces had assisted in the operation to track the weapons and the U.S. Navy was ready on standby to help seize the ship if necessary.
The Pentagon released a statement reiterating the U.S. commitment to “hold Iran accountable for destabilizing activities in the region, even as we continue efforts to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program through diplomacy.” Talks are expected to resume as scheduled on March 17th in Vienna, Austria.
Both the European Union and the United States seem willing to put a possible deal, that is even in the most optimistic of assessments “difficult” and “challenging”, ahead of the concerns of Israel. They are placing their trust in Iran, a country that claims Americans, Zionists and “Hollywood” created the weapons ship in a movie. Iranian officials did not speculate on whether or not the movie was filmed in the same studio as the Apollo 11 moon landing.