Iran trying to ship massive amounts of weapons to Hamas

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Iran trying to ship massive amounts of weapons to Hamas

US and Egyptian warships were scouring the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea to waylay an Iranian freighter carrying scores of heavy rockets for delivery to Hamas. They were acting on intelligence that a ship loaded with an estimated 60 tons of arms to replenish Hamas' depleted war stocks had set out from the Iranian Persian Gulf port of Bandar Abbas on Jan. 17.

The arms-smuggling vessel started its voyage as the Iran-Hedayat and changed its name in mid sea to Famagustus registered to Panama. The captain was ordered by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to unload its cargo at a smugglers cove on the southeastern coast of Sinai opposite the Gulf of Suez, to be picked up by armed Bedouin gangs and moved to El Arish in northern Sinai. From there the contraband rockets were to be slipped gradually into the Gaza Strip.

The cargo consists of 50 Fajr rockets whose range is 50-75 km, scores of heavy Grad rockets, new, improved launchers whose angle of fire can be precisely adjusted, tons of high-quality explosives, submachine guns, rifles and pistols and armor-piercing missiles and shells (of types used successfully by Hizballah against Israeli tanks in 2006).

The shipment, the largest Tehran has ever consigned to the Palestinian Hamas in Gaza, includes also a large number of anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines, equipment for assembling roadside bombs and advanced communications and night vision gear.

(The Palestinian Karin-A arms smuggling ship intercepted by Israel naval commandoes seven years ago carried 50 tons of arms for Fatah).

The Iranian ship aroused suspicions when Western spy satellites and surveillance stations spotted its change of registration after entering the Sea of Oman. Closer observation identified the cargo as a huge arms shipment.
By netchicken: posted on 21-1-2009


WASHINGTON (CNN) The U.S. Navy stopped a ship Monday and found weapons aboard that were bound for Hamas, according to Pentagon officials.

The weapons were found when a boarding team from the USS San Antonio stopped a Cypriot-flagged ship and discovered artillery shells.
By netchicken: posted on 22-1-2009

Ship diverted to Syria

DEBKAfile's military sources report that a US Navy Coast Guard team this week boarded an Iranian arms ship flying a Cypriot flag in the Red Sea and found weapons in its hold.

This was the first time an America warship had ever intercepted an Iranian vessel in international water. The incident activated the Memo of Understanding the former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice signed with Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni a week ago on actions to halt the flow of Iranian arms to Hamas as part of the Gaza ceasefire.

The Iranian ship's captain showed the US boarding team documents recording the Syrian port of Latakia as its cargo's destination.

DEBKAfile reports that both US and Israeli intelligence are certain the arms were bound for Hamas. But according to international law, the US Navy's Combined Task Force (CTF) 151, set up last week to combat piracy, was not authorized to confiscate the cargo or stop the ship because no enforcement mechanism was yet in place.

After a few hours, therefore, the US force released the Iranian vessel and two warships escorted it out of Red Sea waters. The ship and its escort are due to enter the Suez Canal heading north Saturday night, Jan. 23, after being prevented from unloading its arms freight on the coast of Sinai or Gaza.

Tehran has so far not reacted to the incident.
By netchicken: posted on 24-1-2009

Weapons might be in sealed holds. US unable to investigate fully and unwilling to openly confront Iran at this time.
Outcome? Iran wins this round.

The Iranian ship boarded by a US Navy Coast Guard team on the Red Sea last week before it could smuggle arms to Hamas is now disclosed by DEBKAfile's military sources to have tried to trick the search team by enclosing its rocket cargo in secret compartments behind layers of steel. Furthermore, our sources reveal, the US has not yet found a harbor in the region for carrying out a thorough search.

The Cypriot-flagged Iranian freighter Nochegorsk was intercepted last week by the new US Combined Task Force 151 in the Bab al-Mandeb Straits. Its presence in the Red Sea was first revealed by DEBKAfile on Jan. 20. For this article click HERE.

The Americans decided not to give the Israeli Navy a chance to seize the vessel and tow it to Eilat for fear of a Tehran ultimatum to Jerusalem, followed by Iranian attacks on Israeli naval craft patrolling the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea.

Iran maintains two warships in those waters to guard its shipping against Somali pirates as well as a military presence in the Eritrean port of Assab. The arms smuggling ship was first reported escorted out of the Suez Canal Saturday night, Jan. 23, after which Washington imposed a blackout on the incident. It is now moored at an Egyptian Red Sea port at the entrance to the Gulf of Suez.

But the US and Egyptian governments are in a fix. To break the Iranian ship's holds open and expose the rockets destined for Hamas, the facilities of a sizeable port are needed. It would have to be Egyptian because the other coastal nations - Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia - are hostile or controlled by pirates. Both the US and Egypt are hesitant about precipitating a full-blown armed confrontation with Iran. The timing is wrong for the new Barack Obama administration, which is set on smoothing relations with Tehran through diplomatic engagement. Cairo has just launched a campaign to limit Tehran's aggressive drive in the Middle East but does not want a premature clash.

DEBKAfile's Iranian sources disclose that the ship's captain had orders not to resist an American boarding team but impede a close look at its freight. The Navy Coast Guard searchers first found a large amount of ordnance and explosives in the ship's hold, which the Iranian captain claimed were necessary for securing Iranian freighters heading from the Red Sea to the Suez Canal. But then, the US searchers using metal detectors perceived welded steel compartments packed with more hardware concealed at the bottom of the hull.

The option of towing it to a Persian Gulf port for an intensive search was rejected because the Gulf emirates hosting US bases were almost certain to shy away from involvement in the affair. Moreover, Tehran would be close enough to mount a naval commando operation to scuttle the ship before it was searched.

Our military sources estimate that eventually the US government may decide to let the Iranian arms ship sail through the Suez Canal out to the Mediterranean for lack of other options.
By netchicken: posted on 26-1-2009

This issue is still going strong. The Iranian ship is stopped in Cyprus, if it is released then the Americans fear that Israel will board it and provoke an international incident with Iran.

Israel informed Washington, Cairo and Nicosia that surface missiles bound for Hamas are concealed in the steel holds of the Cypriot-flagged Iran Hedayt which the US intercepted but did not stop in the Red Sea last week.

DEBKAfile's military sources report that after neither the US nor Egypt laid hands on the cargo when they had the chance, Cyprus finds itself stuck Saturday, Jan 31, with hard choices: the US and Israel are pressing Nicosia not to let the ship go without a further search for fear Israel will seize it and precipitate an armed clash with Iran. Tehran on the other hand threatens Nicosia with diplomatic and economic retribution if the vessel is not released forthwith.

Friday, Cyprus president Demetris Christofias said a ship anchored off Limassol was being searched carrying cargo that contravenes UN resolutions. Cyprus state radio reported the vessel may have been traveling from Iran to Syria with weapons destined for Hamas.

Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni informed Nicosia that the cargo aboard the Iran Hedayt contravened the UN Security Council Resolution 1747 which forbids Iran to export arms under international sanctions.

But foreign minister Markos Kyprianou later backpedalled by saying the authorities were still trying to determine if the ship's cargo contravenes United Nations resolutions.

After Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said on Jan. 28 that the US Navy had no authority to seize the weapons aboard the Iranian vessel "The US did as much as we could" - Nicosia too is reviewing its options.

As the arms vessel made its way from Bandar Abbas to the Red Sea, tracked by DEBKAfile's sources from Jan. 20, Jerusalem counted on the Livni-Rice memorandum of understanding for a joint effort to stop Iranian arms smuggling to Hamas kicking in. There was a precedent.

On Dec. 2, 2002, American warships helped two Spanish warships halt a North Korean cargo vessel and confiscate Scud missiles bound for Saddam Hussein hidden beneath sacks of cement.

But the Iranian cargo for Hamas was not touched and the ship was allowed to proceed.

Jerusalem is watching tensely now to see what the Cypriots do next. If they let the arms ship go without confiscating the missiles aboard, Tehran will be encouraged to send more arms ships to Hamas and the entire international effort to stop Hamas rearming, which was implicit in Israel's unilateral ceasefire, will cave in before it ever took off.
By netchicken: posted on 4-2-2009

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