Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Israel intercepts ship with 'Gaza-bound weapons'
ISRAELI NAVAL commandos have intercepted a ship in the Mediterranean, believed to be carrying arms destined for Gaza, and have escorted the vessel to the Israeli port of Ashdod.
Soldiers from the elite Shayetet 13, Israel’s navy seals, boarded the German ship Victoria in international waters in the Mediterranean yesterday morning, 200 miles (320km) west of the Israeli coast.
The commandos radioed the Romanian captain identifying themselves as the Israeli army and asked for permission to board. According to Israeli military sources, both the captain and crew were unaware that the ship was carrying weapons.
Three containers were opened by the troops to confirm that weapons were aboard and the vessel was escorted to Ashdod.
The Israeli military said Chinese-manufactured land-to-sea missiles with a range of 35km were on the ship and the military spokesman released photos showing rockets and missiles found. The full extent of the seizure will not be known until all the containers are emptied at Ashdod port.
Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak said the decision to intercept Victoria was taken after intelligence was received. “We suspected that it was carrying the beginning of a system that could impair our operational freedom along the Gaza coast,” he said.
Israel maintains a land and naval blockade of the Gaza strip, a coastal enclave controlled by Hamas.
The Victoria had sailed from the Syrian port of Latakia to Mersin, Turkey. It was seized while on its way from Turkey to the Egyptian port of Alexandria. From there, the Israeli military said the arms would be transported to Gaza, probably overland via Sinai.
Even though the ship originally set sail from Syria, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu pointed the finger of blame at Iran. “We are currently collecting information and the one thing that is certain is that the weapons are from Iran with a relay station in Syria,” he said.
“The source of the weapons is Iran, which continues to try to arm terrorist forces against Israel. It is our right and duty to stop the smuggling of these weapons.”
The Iranian foreign ministry dismissed the allegations. A spokesman said: “Don’t trust Israeli media news. There is no such thing. We do not confirm it in any way.”
Mr Netanyahu stressed that all nations connected to the ship had been updated on the situation. The Victoria is German-owned, but flew a Liberian flag and was operated by a French company with a Ukrainian connection. Although the vessel had set sail from Turkey, Israel believes that there was no Turkish involvement in the affair.
Israeli officials believe that Iran and Syria co-operated in transferring arms aboard the vessel at Latakia. The new route, via Turkey and Egypt, comes after Israel successfully intercepted a number of Iranian attempts to smuggle weapons to Gaza via ships sailing through the Red sea.
Israeli officials stressed that the maritime interception was in accordance with international law as the weapons were not listed on the cargo bill carried by the Victoria .
In 2003, Israeli commandos intercepted the Karine A in the Red sea, with 50 tonnes of missiles, mortars, rifles and ammunition said to be destined for Gaza.
In 2009, the Israeli navy intercepted the Iranian vessel Francop off the coast of Cyprus, carrying hundreds of tonnes of arms.
IDF Navy Soldiers Board the "Victoria"
A short while ago, the Israeli Navy intercepted the cargo vessel "Victoria" loaded with various weaponry. According to assessments, the weaponry on-board the vessel was intended for the use of terror organizations operating in the Gaza Strip. The vessel, flying under a Liberian flag, was intercepted some 200 miles west of Israel's coast. This incident was part of the Navy's routine activity to maintain security and prevent arms smuggling, in light of IDF security assessments.
The ship's crew complied with the Navy's request, and was boarded without incident. The "Victoria" is now sailing towards the Ashdod Port in Israel where its contents will be examined.
Israeli Navy Addresses the "Victoria" Cargo Ship
An Israeli Navy officer requests that the captain and crew of the "Victoria" cargo carrier stop the ship in order for the Israeli Navy to board. The Navy discovered various weaponry on-board the ship which departed from Syria and was estimated to transfer the weaponry to terror organizations in the Gaza Strip. For photos of some of the weaponry found: http://www.flickr.com/photos/idfonline/sets/72157626272235856/
The crew complied with the request and IDF soldiers boarded the ship without incident. The ship is currently headed toward the Israeli port of Ashdod where its arms will be further examined.
Israeli Navy Soldiers Board the "Victoria"
Deputy Commander of the Israeli Navy Addresses "Victoria" Incident
Rear Admiral Rani Ben Yehuda, the Deputy Commander of the Israeli Navy, discusses how the Israeli Navy was able to successfully board the "Victoria" cargo ship without incident, which was found to contain weaponry smuggled from Iran and Syria, eventually destined for the Gaza Strip.
He mentions that the Navy has had experience intercepting weapons intended for terrorist organizations who will use them against the Israeli population, thus there are significant security reasons for the inspection of all cargo heading towards Gaza.
For more information on the "Victoria" ship: http://idfspokesperson.com/2011/03/15/c-704-anti-ship-missiles-found-on-board-the-victoria/