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Israel intercepts weapons shipment

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seizedmortarbombIsrael Defense Forces (IDF) have seized a containership loaded with weaponry. The Liberian-flagged Victoria was intercepted yesterday morning some 200 miles west of Israel’s coast. The ship is managed by Peter Doehle Schiffahrts-KG of Hamburg, Germany and registered to Aspera Schiffahrts GmbH, which shares Peter Doehle’s street address. It is on charter to French container giant CMA-CGM.

The vessel was on its way from Mersin Port in Turkey to Alexandria Port in Egypt.

“This incident was part of the Navy’s routine activity to maintain security and prevent arms smuggling, in light of IDF security assessments,” said the IDF. “Security forces were met with no resistance from the crew on-board.”

seizedmunitionThe Israeli Navy escorted the seized vessel to the Israeli port of Ashdod for further, detailed inspection of the cargo.

“According to assessments, the various weapons on board the vessel were intended to be used by terror organizations operating in the Gaza Strip,” said the IDF.

The IDF noted that “Turkey is not tied to the incident in any way.”

The operation was approved, understood to be necessary and carried out according to government instruction following the Chief of the General Staff’s recommendations.

Earlier on Tuesday morning, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz updated the Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak, about the findings on board the vessel.

German authorities were alerted about Victoria’s interception as, says the IDF “the ship was German property.”

In addition, says IDF “the government of Liberia, whose flag it was flying under, was notified, as well as France because of its French shipping company.”

The operation was under the command of Commander of the IDF Navy, Maj. Gen. Eliezer Marom, and the interception was under the command of Special Navy Forces Commander.

The vessel’s crew and content will be transferred to an Israeli port for questioning and further inspection.

The IDF will continue its intelligence and operational activities in order to maintain Israel’s security and prevent arms smuggling that will fuel the terror and strengthen its infrastructure in the Gaza Strip and in Lebanon.

According to shipment documents and crew questioning, the vessel initially departed from Lattakia Port in Syria and then proceeded to Mersin Port in Turkey. Turkey has no connection to this incident regarding weaponry uncovered on board.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday stated: “We had reasonable grounds to believe that there were weapons on board which were intended to be used to harm Israeli citizens.”

“The origin of the weapons was Iran, which is trying to arm the Gaza Strip,” the prime minister continued. “The seizure was made at sea according to international laws and the ship is being led to Ashdod.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF intelligence and operations officers had been monitoring the movement of the vessel over recent days.

According to Israeli website Debkafile, the Victoria picked up the arms at the Syrian port of Latakia after they had been being offloaded there by  two Iranian warships that transited the Suez Canal February 22.

Although there were various official statements at that time saying that the Iranian ships were not carrying contraband weapon, Debkafile says that its military sources report that from the time that the Iranian navy ships entered the Mediterranean, U.S. and Israeli warships and spy planes kept their movements under close surveillance: Around Feb. 25-26, says Debkafile, one of the warships was seen offloading a large batch of containers at Syrian Navy ordnance depots in Latakia port. In the second half of last week, says the Israeli website, the Victoria docked there and was seen loading the containers delivered by the Iranian warships at Latakia.

March 15, 2011

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