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Military: Israel navy captures arms ship 100 miles off Israel’s coast

November 4, 2009

JERUSALEM — Israeli naval commandos on Wednesday seized a ship that defense officials said was carrying missiles and anti-tank weapons from Iran to Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

The pre-dawn seizure near Cyprus was a rare interception of a suspected arms shipment by Israel, which has long accused Iran of arming its enemies. Israel offered no evidence to support its claim that the weapons were meant for Hezbollah.

Weapons including anti-tank missiles and Katyusha rockets were stashed on a commercial vessel operating under the guise of an aid boat, captained by a Pole and flying an Antiguan flag, Israeli defense officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the military had not officially released the information.

Based on intelligence reports, a naval unit patrolling the area intercepted and boarded the vessel without incident, defense officials said.

Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said the crew was not involved in any arms-smuggling effort.

The boat was towed to the southern Israeli port of Ashdod, where the weapons were being unloaded.

A senior Lebanese army official refused to comment on the report, saying it happened outside Lebanon’s national waters. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak called the interception “another success against the relentless attempts to smuggle weapons to bolster terrorist elements threatening Israel’s security.”

The boat was the second major arms ship Israel has seized in its campaign to quash the smuggling of weapons to Palestinian and Lebanese militants.

In January 2002, Israeli forces stormed the Karine A freighter on the Red Sea, and confiscated what the military said were 50 tons of missiles, mortars, rifles and ammunition headed for Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

Authorities from other countries, including the United States last month, have stopped ships suspected of carrying arms in the past.

The Lebanon-Israel border has been largely quiet since Israel and Hezbollah fought a fierce war in the summer of 2006. But Israel has long warned that Hezbollah fighters have been rearming and now possess some 40,000 rockets.

Gaza militants also have dramatically reduced their rocket attacks on southern Israel since a bruising winter war. But militants continue to smuggle in rockets and components through underground tunnels with Egypt, the Israeli military says.

On Tuesday, the head of military intelligence said Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers recently test-fired a missile capable of striking Israel’s largest urban center, metropolitan Tel Aviv.

Hamas and Hezbollah are both proxies of Iran, whose nuclear program, long-range missiles and patronage of militants on Israel’s southern and northern flanks make it the Jewish state’s most formidable foe.

Israel shares the West’s fears that Tehran is developing nuclear weapons, despite its assertions to the contrary. Neutralizing the Iranian nuclear threat remains Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s top priority and Israel has not ruled out a military strike against Tehran’s nuclear facilities.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 9, 2009 8:10 AM

    I find blogging one of the good ways to spend time.

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