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Israeli naval commando unit overtakes Iranian weapon ship in Red Sea

By Missing Peace

UPDATED SEE BELOW

Based on information provided by IDF and others

Today an IDF Naval Commando unit overtook an Iranian weapons ship flying a Panama flag in the Red Sea, some 1,500 km from Israeli shore.
Photo Credit: IDF

Several months ago, IDF intelligence identified a weapons transfer of M-302 rockets, known to be manufactured in Syria, from Damascus to Tehran. The rockets were being flown from the International Airport in Damascus to Iran in a move carefully orchestrated by the Quds Force. This was an unusual event, as usually such transfers take place from Iran to Syria, not vice versa.

From Tehran the shipment was moved to Bandar Abbas Port in southern Iran, and subsequently loaded onto a civilian vessel, the KLOS-C. This is the same port used to load up the Francop, another ship involved in an Iranian weapon smuggling attempt in 2009.

 From Bandar Abbas the KLOS-C sailed to Umm Qasr Port in Iraq. It was loaded with more containers, all holding bags of cement – another attempt to complete the falsification and obscure the Iranian connection. The ship then headed towards Port Sudan, but was intercepted by Israeli naval forces, including missile ships and the Naval Commando (Shayetet 13) who boarded it in the Red Sea. Were it not for that, the ship would have docked in Port Sudan and the rockets would have been transferred via land, through the Sinai Peninsula and directly to the hands of terror organizations in the Gaza Strip.

The KLOS-C is not the first ship smuggling arms that is intercepted by the IDF, but it is distinguished by the lethality and quality of its cargo. Previous shipments contained standard weaponry such as mortars, rifle ammo, and middle-range rockets.

This shipment, while certainly containing some of these, comprised weapons with a dramatically larger strike range and substantially heavier rocket warheads than previously seen in the region.

Armed with the M-302 rockets, terror groups in Gaza had the means to threaten millions of Israeli citizens, as well as strategic locations such as Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv and Israel’s coastal gas fields.

M 302 rockets seized by IDF on KlOS C vesselM 302 rockets seized by IDF on KlOS C vessel

– M-302 C: Has a strike range of 140 km (85 miles) from sea level, and a range of 160 km (100 miles) when launched from one kilometer above sea level.Its warhead is 140 kilograms.

– M-302 D: Has a strike range of 160 km (100 miles) from sea level, and a range of 180 km (110 miles) when launched from one kilometer above sea level, for instance. Its warhead is 144 kilograms.

– M-302 E: Has a strike range of 200 km (125 miles) from sea level, and a range of 215 km (130 miles) when launched from one kilometer above sea level, for instance from southern Syria or Lebanon. Its warhead is 125 kilograms.

Both models of the M-302 were used by Hezbollah against Israel in the Second Lebanon War of 2006, where they were launched and hit major cities like Haifa and Afula.

Iran’s Past Weapon Smuggling Attempts

This is not the first attempt at smuggling weapons Iran tried to carry out. Previous attempts, had they been successful, would have armed local terror organizations with vast amounts of high-quality weaponry. Here are a select number of cases:

Naval smuggling attempts:

– On January 2009, the Cypriot merchant vessel Monchegors, which was en route to Syria, was called for inspection at Limassol by the Cypriot authorities. Upon boarding the ship, inspectors revealed caches of Iranian weapons. The cargo was seized and confiscated in Cyprus until July 11th 2011, when it caught fire and spontaneously combusted.

– On November 4th 2009, the Israeli Navy boarded the Francop, a merchant vessel en route Latakia in Syria. Upon inspection, IDF forces discovered 500 tons of Iranian-made weapons, secreted away in 36 unmarked cargo crates. The shipment included various rockets, cannons, hand grenades and rifle ammunition – all disguised and covered up by sacks of ordinary supplies, in a similar method to that used on the KLOS-C.

– On March 2011, Israeli Navy commandos boarded the civilian vessel Victoria which was headed from Syria to the Egyptian port city Alexandria. The ship was carrying approximately 50 tons of concealed weaponry, including Iranian-made C-704 surface-to-sea missiles, mortars and ammunition. The shipment was intended for terror organizations in the Gaza Strip, such as Hamas or the PIJ (Palestinian Islamic Jihad).

– On January 22nd, 2002, Isreali Navy commandos boarded the merchant vessel Karine-A which had been purchased by Palestinian owners in order to smuggle weapons from Iran to the Gaza Strip. The ship had loaded its cargo in Iran, sailed through the Persian Gulf and was stopped on its way to Israel – much like the KLOS-C. The Karine-A had was shipping 50 tons of weaponry.

Smuggling attempts via land:

On January and April 2012, Turkish authorities twice seized several trucks carrying contraband weapons on their way from Iran to Syria.

Airborne smuggling attempts:

The Iranians have long been utilizing the aerial route to Lebanon in order to smuggle weapons to the area in a quick and discreet way. For over a decade, the Quds Force and the Revolutionary Guard have been shipping weapons to Syria, primarily through the companies “Iran-Air,” “Mahan-Air,” and the government owned company “Maaraj-Air.” Since the fighting in Syria started, Iran has been delivering weapons shipments on an almost weekly basis.

– On November 4th 2009, the Israeli Navy boarded the Francop, a merchant vessel en route Latakia in Syria. Upon inspection, IDF forces discovered 500 tons of Iranian-made weapons, secreted away in 36 unmarked cargo crates. The shipment included various rockets, cannons, hand grenades and rifle ammunition – all disguised and covered up by sacks of ordinary supplies, in a similar method to that used on the KLOS-C.

– On March 2011, Israeli Navy commandos boarded the civilian vessel Victoria which was headed from Syria to the Egyptian port city Alexandria. The ship was carrying approximately 50 tons of concealed weaponry, including Iranian-made C-704 surface-to-sea missiles, mortars and ammunition. The shipment was intended for terror organizations in the Gaza Strip, such as Hamas or the PIJ (Palestinian Islamic Jihad).

– On January 22nd, 2002, Isreali Navy commandos boarded the merchant vessel Karine-A which had been purchased by Palestinian owners in order to smuggle weapons from Iran to the Gaza Strip. The ship had loaded its cargo in Iran, sailed through the Persian Gulf and was stopped on its way to Israel – much like the KLOS-C. The Karine-A had was shipping 50 tons of weaponry.

UPDATE

Analysts and journalists spent Wednesday assessing the geopolitical, diplomatic, and military significance of the overnight interdiction of an Iranian vessel carrying advanced missiles bound for the Gaza Strip, after reports began to trickle out of the Middle East early in the morning that the Panamanian-flagged Klos-C merchant ship had been boarded by elite Israeli commandos roughly 1,500 kilometers off the Israeli coast. The Israeli Defense Forces released a torrent of information, including videos of the raid, throughout the day. The cargo of advanced M302 missiles – which have a range of 200km, enabling any group that possessed them to reach across Israel – reportedly originated in Syria, and then transited through Iran and Iraq, before eventually being intercepted on the high seas by Israel. Israel’s left-leaning Haaretz headlined its coverage of the intelligence coup with “In seizing Gaza-bound ship, Israel postponed the war no one wants,” suggesting that the successful delivery of the weapons to Gaza-based terrorists would have forced the Israelis to make moves aimed at militarily deterring their use or directly degrading them. Veteran Jerusalem Post national security reporter Yaakov Lappin read the incident against the backdrop of a covert war between the Iranian government, which seeks to put advanced weapons in the hands of anti-Israel terror organizations, and Israeli intelligence agencies, which have moved to stem the flow of rockets, missiles, and other weapons. Lappin projected that Jerusalem’s ability to deter the use of whatever weapons are slipping through – and he noted that weapons are undeniably doing so – will eventually erode, and that “the IDF will have to activate its unprecedented firepower, to spare Israeli civilians from the rockets and missiles that Iran and its affiliated organizations are preparing for them.”

TIP contributed to this report