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March 15th in the open waters of the Mediterranean Sea - an innocent looking commercial ship flying a Liberian flag is stopped by the Israel navy. The operation was approved by PM Netanyahu taking into account confirmed reports that the vessel was carrying illicit arms destined for terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip.

Nothing in the freight manifest of the Victoria revealed the true nature of the content of the ship’s containers. The crew had no idea they were carrying illegal weapons intended for terrorists and were quite surprised when a preliminary search by the boarding party, found significant amounts of arms and military equipment.

Weapons victoria 1.jpg Weapons victoria 2.jpg
(Photo: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

In addition to weapons, soldiers who boarded the “Victoria” also found a radar used to detect ships prior to the launching of missiles from the coast.

There is no doubt these weapons would have been used by Hamas against Israeli civilians. This attempt at smuggling large amounts of weaponry aboard the Victoria provides additional proof of Israel’s imperative need to examine all goods entering the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Iran has been creative in its attempts to transfer weapons to it’s allies in the region over the last 10 years. Weapons were transferred on board ships like Karine A (carried 50 tons of weapons), aerial convoys and trains. Weapons are often concealed as humanitarian aid. After the earthquake in southern Iran in January 2004, the world was sending in help to Iran. In return, Iran disguised aerial convoys as humanitarian aid and tried to smuggle weapons to Hezbollah. A few years after that an Iranian train carrying arms (mortar shells, light arms, rocket launchers and ammunition) was uncovered in Turkey. The arms were destined for Hezbollah. Again , the Iranians attempted to conceal and disguise the arms in order to avoid suspicion by the Turkish authorities.

The illegal smuggling of arms to the Gaza Strip poses a direct and imminent threat to the safety and security of Israel and its citizens. As Hamas keeps firing rockets from Gaza, Iran will do whatever it can to keep the weapon route alive. All of us in hope for peace but as long as terrorists control Gaza, Israel must maintain its naval blockade and ensure weapons will not reach their hands.

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The Muqata has a summary of a Special IDF press conference for bloggers just half an hour ago that the IDF intercepted the Victoria bound from Gaza to Syria and found weapons originating from Iran.

According to Muqata’s summary:

Early this morning IDF Naval Commandos from boarded a cargo ship, “Victoria” — a German owned ship, operating by a French Company, flying under a Liberian flag. We had advance intelligence information that this vessel was carrying weapons.

We boarded the ship and the crew complied without any violence. A preliminary search revealed weapons in shipping containers. The Israeli navy is now escorting the boat to Israel where a further, detailed examination of the cargo and the ship will take place.

The ship originated from the Syrian port of Latkia, and also docked in Turkey’s Mersin Port on its way to Alexandria in Egypt. The IDF believes the weapons found on board were destined for Hamas in Gaza.

The ship’s crew apparently had no idea there were weapons in the shipping containers, and the IDF doesn’t believe that Egypt or Turkey were connected.

The current operating analysis is that Syria and Iran are the major actors, cooperating to send weapons to Hamas.

It has not yet been revealed what kinds of weapons were found on the ship.

Israel Matzav was at the conference also, and suggests a possible connection between the weapons and the Iranian ships that recently passed through the Suez Canal:

Lt. Col. Leibovich did not know whether the weapons were connected to the Iranian warships that passed through the Suez Canal three weeks ago. But given that those ships sailed to Latakia - and then went right back through the Canal - this is a distinct possibility.

More details will be forthcoming.

Anyone who recalls the incident of the Karin A, knows that this is not the first attempt to smuggle weapons to terrorists. In addition to the Karine A, there have been a number of previous instances-including incidents involving the Santorini, Abu Hassan, the Hansa India, the Monchegorsk, the Francop and Everest cargo vessels. These were involved in what were otherwise innocent transnational commercial shipping which was abused by States that sponsor terrorism, including Iran, Syria and Lebanon, all done in order to facilitate the illegal trafficking of arms to terrorist organizations in the region. Check out: Israel’s interception of arms ships - Background

If nothing else, today’s incident demonstrates the necessity for Israel’s legal blockade of Gaza, to prevent weapons being delivered to the Hamas terrorist group.

UPDATE: Here are some photos of what the IDF found aboard the Victoria:

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Daled Amos

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Made in Iran.

Not for the first time, the IDF intercepted a ship attempting to run the Gaza blockade, this time apparently without getting attacked after boarding the vessel.  Unlike last May, this ship was flagged as Liberian rather than Turkish, but the ship last sailed from Mercen in Turkey.  The ship contained “dozens of tons” of arms, [...]

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