This past Wednesday 4th November 2009, an Israeli naval action exposed the ugly and almost-indescribably dangerous hand of the Iranian regime in sowing terror on a scale that people far away don't often grasp.
Naval commandos in an operation called Operation Four Species boarded a ship called the Francop in the eastern Mediterranean Sea without resistance, about 160 kilometres (100 mi) off the coast of Israel, near Cyprus. [There's IDF video footage here.] A spokesperson for the Israel Defense Force (IDF) says the ship was carrying "dozens of shipping containers, carrying numerous weapons, disguised as civilian cargo among hundreds of other containers on board". These originated in Iran and were to be directed to Hizbollah. After the boarding, the Israeli navy directed the ship to the Israeli port of Ashdod where the instruments of death were carefully inspected and inventorized. The ship was then released.
The final talley includes: 9,000 mortar shells, thousands of 107-mm. Katyusha rockets with a range of 15 kilometers, some 600 Russian-made 122-mm. rockets with a 40-km. range; and hundreds of thousands of Kalashnikov bullets.
This was the largest such intercept in Israel's history. It's said to be equivalent to the load of about ten cargo planes.
The IDF says the ship picked up its cargo in Damietta, Egypt where it had Bandar-Abbas, Iran on October 25. The Francop was then set to sail to Limassol, Cyprus and on to Latakia, Syria from where it was to be transferred to Hizbollah. In the interests of full disclosure, Hizbullah says it "categorically denies" any connection to the weapons "that the Zionist enemy claims to have confiscated from the ship." And we know they would never lie.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 forbids the shipments of arms to Hezbollah. This Res. 1701 was a major issue at the end of the Second Lebanon War, and prohibits the delivery of weapons to any entity in Lebanon but the Lebanese government. It was meant to keep Hizbollah from rearming itself with long-range rockets but Hizbollah, according to every Israeli source we know, has about doubled its rocket arsenal since the war, mainly with the help of shipments from Iran and Syria.
For the curious (dare we say naive?) there's also a UN resolution that specifically (Res 1747) prohibits Iran from exporting weapons:
Iran shall not supply, sell or transfer directly or indirectly from its territory or by its nationals or using its flag vessels or aircraft any arms or related materiel, and that all States shall prohibit the procurement of such items from Iran by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in the territory of Iran...Israel has filed a complaint with the UN. Before we hold our collective breaths waiting for a meaningful response, note that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released a report to the UN Security Council two days before the Francop seizure saying the UN takes Israeli allegations about weapons smuggling to Hizbollah seriously, but lacks the ability to independently verify the information. Explaining this, Mr Ban says the government of Lebanon [not a misprint - Lebanon] has not informed the UN of a single incident of weapons smuggling to its territory, whether by land, sea or air. Astonishing but evidently true.
For any of our friends wondering why most Israelis tend to place more trust in their military's intelligence than in international forums, a brief and selective list of past instruments-of-terror seizures:
- 2002, January: In the Karine A seizure, IDF commandoes took over a 4,000-ton freighter captained by a high-ranking Palestinian Authority naval policeman without a single shot being fired, 300 miles south of Eilat in the Red Sea, between the coasts of Saudi Arabia and Sudan. The Iranian and Russian-made weapons on board included long-range Katyusha rockets with a 20-kilometer (12-mile) range, LAW anti-tank missiles, Sagger anti-tank missiles, long range mortar bombs, mines, sniper rifles, ammunition and more than two tons of high explosives. The Palestinian Authority, led at the time by Araft, was reported to have spent more then $100 million on the arms shipment.
- 2009, January - While Operation Cast Lead was underway, IAF fighter planes and drones (according to non-Israeli sources) flew 1,000 miles to Sudan to bomb a convoy of trucks smuggling Iranian weapons to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
- 2009, January: US naval vessels near Cyprus stopped a ship called the Monchegorsk, chartered by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISIL), and headed for Syria, carrying artillery and tank shells, as well as raw materials to make rockets.
- 2009, September: During the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, US President Barak Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy exposed another Iranian terror undertaking when they announced together the existence of a secret uranium enrichment facility near the city of Qom which Western intelligence agencies believe was to be used to enrich uranium to illegal military levels for a bomb.
- 2009, October: Another ship, the Hansa India, which left Iran flying a German flag, was caught by the US military carrying eight containers filled with bullets and industrial equipment that could be used to manufacture weapons. These containers were also intended for Syria, and from there, to Iran's clients in Lebanon, the Hizbollah. One positive aspect of this: the British Treasury on October 12 ordered financial services companies to cease all commercial relations with the Iranian ocean carrier IRISL "amid concerns it has been involved in helping Tehran to develop nuclear weapons.... The order, issued under the Counter Terrorism Act 2008, also applies to Iran's Bank Mellat."