Israel seizes massive haul of weapons

January 04, 2002


1. 50 tonnes of Iranian-manufactured arms and munitions seized…
2. …Including long-range Katyusha rockets
3. "Ship seizure gives timely ammunition for Sharon's propaganda war" (Guardian, Jan. 5, 2002)

Attached below are details of the "Karine-A" ship captured in the Red Sea on Thursday that was heading to the Palestinian Authority.

-- Tom Gross



Israel seizes massive haul of weapons
January 4, 2001

Israel has intercepted a massive haul of weapons which were headed for the Palestinian Authority.

Lt Gen Shaul Mofaz, Israel's army chief of staff, said Israeli commandos stormed a Palestinian Authority-owned ship and seized 50 tonnes of mainly Iranian-manufactured arms and munitions, including mortars and anti-tank missiles.



IDF seizes ship smuggling 50 tons of weapons to PA
By Amos Harel
January 4, 2001

A ship carrying 50 tons of weaponry, including long-range Katyusha rockets, and intended for the Palestinian Authority was captured in the Red Sea on Thursday in a joint operation carried out by Israel's Navy and Air Force.

IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz, who announced the capture at a press conference Friday, said the weapons cache aboard the vessel included Katyusha rockets with a 20-kilometer range, "Strella" anti-aircraft missiles, snipers rifles, mortar launchers and shells, mines and a variety of anti-tank missiles, such as the Sager and Lao.

The ship was escorted by Israeli forces to Eilat where it docked Friday evening. Only a small portion of its cargo has been checked.

Senior officials said this was to date the most extensive attempt to smuggle weapons into the Palestinian Authority to be foiled by Israel.

"If (the cargo) had reached terrorists acting against us, it could have dramatically raised the threat faced by Israeli civilians and soldiers, and significantly widened the scale of terrorist attacks," Mofaz said.

"The connection between the Palestinian Authority and the smuggling operation is unequivocal, clear and undeniable," he said. "Official figures in the Palestinian Authority were involved, among them senior officials in the Palestinian naval police."

He said that the ship's captain was an officer in the Palestinian naval police.

The Palestinian Authority denied any connection to the vessel. "We know nothing about this and we are going to investigate it," said Nabil Abu Rdainah, adviser to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. He called the vessel's capture "Israeli propaganda" intended to torpedo the mission of U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni to bring about a cease-fire between the two sides.

Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said that the weapons-smuggling attempt showed that the PA was turning towards war, Israel Radio reported. He also said that the capture of the vessel points to the cynicism in the PA's priorities, as it invests money to obtain weapons instead of helping the Palestinian people.

In response to the capture of the vessel, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said that, "The Palestinian Authority faces a choice. They cannot continue this double game. An unequivocal declaration is required - whether they are for or against terror."

Israel Radio reported that because Israel believes Iran played a prominent role in the weapons-smuggling attempt, Foreign Minister Peres will lead a diplomatic effort in the internatinal community to declare Iran a country that supports terror.

Channel Two reported that Iran denied any connection to the ship.

U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni, who met Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and PA Chairman Yasser Arafat on Friday as part of his latest mission to broker a cease-fire, was informed of the boat's capture on Thursday.

Mofaz said the operation, in which naval commandos sezied the "Karine-A," was carried out overnight some 500 kilometers from the Israeli coast "in complete surprise and with no casualties."

Mofaz described the operation as "complicated and daring" and that the ship's 13-member crew had also been captured.

"We are witnessing a double game played by the PA leadership," Mofaz told reporters gathered at Beit Sokolov in Tel Aviv. He called the PA "a terrorist network, infected from head to toe by terror, that doesn't understand that it cannot make gains using terror, especially after the events of September 11."

"This smuggling attempt indicates the PA's intentions to continue violence and carry out deadly attacks deep inside Israel," he added.

Security sources said that the size and scope of the cargo captured on the Karine-A was far more troubling than the weapons found on board the "Santorini," a ship the navy intercepted off the coast in May last year. According to the sources, an important country in the region is behind the more recent weapons smuggling attempt – an apparent reference to Iran or Iraq.

The Santorini was laden with large quantities of weapons en route from Lebanon to the Palestinian Authority. The cache included Katyusha missiles, SA-7 "Strella" anti-aircraft missiles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers (RPG), anti-tank grenades, mortars and shells, mines, Kalashnikov assault rifles and ammunition.

The Palestinian Authorty denied any connection to the May weapons shipment.

Partial list of weapons found on the "Karine-A":

-122mm Katyusha rockets with a range of 20 km.
-107mm Katyusha rockets with a range of 8 km.
-80 and 120mm mortars
-anti-tank missiles (Lao, RPG and Sager)
-anti-tank mines
-rifles for sharpshooters
-Kaleshnikov rifles
-scuba and rubber raft equipment

[Tom Gross adds -- This piece, written a day after the dispatch above by The Guardian's Middle East editor Brian Whitaker, is generally good, but the headline is very misleading. Please also note the grave threats cited at the end of the article by former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani.]


Ship seizure gives timely ammunition for Sharon's propaganda war
By Brian Whitaker
The Guardian
January 5, 2002

The interception of the Karine-A, a vessel said to be owned by the Palestinian Authority, with Palestinian naval police among its crew and a cargo of illicit weapons in its hold, could not have come at a more fortunate moment for Ariel Sharon.

It was just in time for the Israeli prime minister to mention the dramatic discovery to Anthony Zinni, the US peace envoy, before Mr Zinni shuttled over to the West Bank for a meeting with the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.

Full details of what the Israelis have found are likely to be delayed for a while: the ship did not arrive at the Red Sea port of Eilat until late last night. Even so, the lesson the Israelis would like the world to draw from the incident is that Mr Arafat cannot be trusted.

At least part of the cargo, which is reported to include Katyusha rockets with a 12-mile range, anti-tank missiles and explosives, goes beyond the weaponry that the Palestinian Authority is allowed to acquire under its agreements with Israel.

The Israelis also seem confident that they have established a clear link between the weapons and officials - possibly senior ones - in the Palestinian Authority.

"We are witnessing a double game played by the PA leadership," the army chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz, said.

"It is a terrorist network, infected from head to toe by terror, that doesn't understand that it cannot make achievements using terror, especially after September 11."

The scale of the smuggling operation is unclear, and pre vious interceptions, such as the seizure of a boat off Gaza last May, have turned out to be less sensational than their initial presentation.

Mr Zinni was not sufficiently ruffled to cancel his meeting with Mr Arafat yesterday or to comment on the incident to the press.

Instead, he declared himself "optimistic" that conditions could be put in place for a ceasefire and an eventual return to political negotiations, as laid down last year in plans by the CIA chief, George Tenet, and the former US senator George Mitchell.

As a first step he announced that there would be a meeting of Palestinian and Israeli security chiefs tomorrow, which is precisely the path Mr Sharon does not want to take.

One intriguing question is why the vessel was intercepted so far from Israel - 300 miles, according to reports, which would place it between southern Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

According to Admiral Yedidya Ya'ari at yesterday's press conference, the seizure took place at or slightly beyond the limits of the Israeli military's normal operating range.

The timing may have been dictated less by operational necessities than by news management. To inform Mr Zinni of the discovery at a critical moment during his visit was certainly a smart move, and to hold a press conference the following day in the certainty that it would overshadow news of his talks with Mr Arafat was even smarter.

On the other hand Israel may have believed that the cargo was about to be unloaded. Adm Ya'ari said the weapons were packed in floating waterproof containers, ready to be dropped into the sea and picked up by smaller craft.

An alternative view is that Israel is trying to cash in on the "war against terrorism" and smear other Middle Eastern countries in the eyes of the US, thereby forcing it to distance itself from the Palestinian cause.

Earlier this week there were reports that the militant Palestinian organisation Hamas had been seeking weapons in Saudi Arabia.

Before news of the ship's seizure broke, Major-General Amos Gilad spoken of unusual efforts" by the Palestinians to smuggle high-quality arms, but he gave no details.

Meanwhile Israeli security sources told the newspaper Ha'aretz that Palestinian officials, some of them personal assistants to Mr Arafat, had embarked on weapons-buying trips to Arab states.

News agencies reported yesterday that the weapons seized were mainly supplied by Iran. Israel, the only nuclear power in the Middle East, has long complained of a nuclear threat from Iran.

The war of words between the two countries flared up at the end of last month after a speech by the former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani, which the Israeli foreign minister, Shimon Peres, described as "bone-chilling".

Iranian newspapers quoted him saying: "If one day ... the world of Islam is mutually equipped with the kind of weapons which Israel presently possesses, the world's arrogant strategy will then come to a dead end, because the use of an atomic bomb on Israel won't leave anything."

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.