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On Tuesday, the Israeli navy stopped and boarded the “Victoria,” a German owned, French-operated ship flying a Liberian flag that was sailing from Turkey to Syria. It was loaded with weapons the Israelis believe were headed to the Gaza Strip, which is currently controlled by Hamas terrorists. The stop occured in international waters and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took full responsibility for the interception, claiming he had a “solid basis” to believe the ship was transporting arms “destined for terrorist forces in the heart of Gaza.” Netanyahu’s assumption proved true, and countless civilian lives were undoubtedly saved because of it.
“Last night, I granted permission to take over a ship for which we had the basis to think that there were weapons on it destined for Gaza,” Netanyahu 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,” he added. Mr Netanyahu also pointed out that while the ship’s journey originated in Turkey, that country “was not tied to the incident in any way.”
Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich speculated that this incident was tied to last month’s passage of two Iranian warships through the Suez Canal for the first time since the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The Victoria, which set sail from the Syrian port of Lattakai and then stopped in Mersin, Turkey, was bound for Alexandria, Egypt. From there the weapons were to be transported to Gaza by land. The Jerusalem Post notes that Lattakai was the same port visited last month by the two Iranian warships. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel had been tracking the ship for days, and that the goal of this smuggling attempt “was to harm Israel’s security” and that his country would continue to pursue any challenge to that security “determinedly, and everywhere, to defend the country.”
The Victoria was escorted to the Israeli port of Ashdod where Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz went to inspect the arms cache. The cache was comprised of six C-704 anti-ship missiles made in Iran with Chinese components, two radar control systems manufactured by British company Kelvin Hughes, and thousands of mortar shells for which the design specification had been sold to Iran by Israeli company Soltam in the early 1970s, when the two countries were still allies. Officials put all of the armaments on public display Wednesday. “To all those who questioned and attacked and criticized Israel for stopping Gaza-bound ships in order to check them, here is the answer,” Mr. Netanyahu said, standing before the cache.
The Prime Minister continued. “Every day there are efforts by Iran, Syria and terrorist organizations to smuggle weapons to Hezbollah and Hamas,” Netanyahu said. “There is an axis of terror in our region, and we have to confront it if we want to prevent terrorism and create a chance for peace…The weaponry discovered onboard the Victoria prove why Israel needed to prevent ships from sailing freely into the Gaza Strip.”
Iran denied the accusations. “The Zionist regime’s diet is mixed with lies, lies and more lies,” said Iranian Army Commander-General Amir Ataollah Salehi “We deny all false reports. The Zionist regime is a usurper. There is an Islamic awakening throughout the Middle East and North Africa that sees the damage…there is no doubt that Israel is calculating its losses since the departure of the Egyptian Pharoah. God willing, they will sink to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea…next year the armed forces of the Islamic Republic will be stronger than ever.” Unfortunately, for the general there was a rather inconvenient piece of evidence revealed with respect to the anti-ship missiles: the missiles themselves were labeled in Farsi, along with the operation manuals explaining how to use them. Farsi is the most widespread language used in Iran.
Israelis believe Iran is testing their country’s resolve in the wake of the various uprisings that have engulfed the region. No doubt they are also seeking to increase their influence as well, following the fall of Israel’s most reliable ally, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Although the Egyptian army claims it intends to maintain the status quo with respect to that alliance, Egypt’s own stability remains in question. Just over a week ago, 13 people were killed and 140 injured in sectarian violence between Muslims and Christian Copts triggered by the burning of a Coptic church.
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