Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Global Impact: Dozens of M302 Iranian Rockets Seized by Israeli Navy in the Red Sea

According to Reuters, The Israeli Navy seized a ship in the Red Sea on Wednesday (March 5) that was transporting dozens of advanced Iranian-supplied rockets made in Syria and intended for Palestinian guerrillas in the Gaza Strip.

The disclosure came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in the US to press his case for tougher international action against Iran over its disputed nuclear program and support for Islamist guerrilla groups.

The Panamanian-flagged cargo vessel, Klos C, was boarded in international waters without resistance from its 17-strong crew in a "complex, covert operation", Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner told reporters.

Lerner said dozens of M302 rockets were found aboard the Klos C, a weapon which could have struck deep into Israel from Gaza and would have significantly enhanced the firepower of the Palestinian enclave's Hamas rulers and other armed factions.

"The M302 in its most advanced model can strike over 100 miles; if they had reached Gaza, ultimately that would have meant millions of Israelis under threat," he said.

COMMENT: There was no immediate comment from Iran or Syria.

Military footage showed the Israeli navy chief, Admiral Ram Rothberg, inspecting a rocket on the floor of a ship hold, with cement bags labeled "Made in Iran" in English next to it.

Lerner said the rockets were flown from Syria to Iran, from where they were shipped first to Iraq and then towards Sudan. Had they reached the African coast, they would have probably been smuggled overland through Egypt to Gaza, he said.

Nic Jenzen-Jones, an Australia-based military arms specialist and director of Armament Research Services, said most reports indicate that the Syrian-produced rockets had a 90 to 100 kilometer (59 miles) range.

Netanyahu's office said that the PM, who was in Los Angeles on Wednesday after holding a White House meeting and addressing a pro-Israel lobby in Washington, had approved the ship seizure.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel had obtained Panamá's permission to board the "Klos C." 

"We followed international law to the letter. The ship travelled under a Panamanian flag, the company was listed in Marshall Islands, the captain was Turkish and the crew was from various different countries," he told a conference in Tel Aviv.

Iran had orchestrated the shipment, Lerner said, describing the process as months in the making. The "Klos C" was being brought to the Israeli port of Eilat where its contents would be more fully inspected and displayed to the public.

Lerner said there was no immediate indication the crew had known the nature of their cargo.

According to tracking data, the "Klos C" was previously at Bandar Abbas in Iran in early February 2014; prior to that in Port Said in January.