In an unusually frank disclosure, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday night, March 5, that US intelligence services and military had worked with Israel to track the Iranian Panama-flagged ship KLOS C, which was apprehended by Israeli naval commandos on the Red Sea earlier that day carrying missiles for Gaza via Sudan. The ship was boarded by the Israeli elite Shayetet 13 (Flotilla 13) and found to be carrying dozens of 302mm rockets made in Syria with a range of 150 km made in Syria. It is now on its way to Eilat.
The White House spokesman said that Washington worked with Israeli through intelligence and military channels, and at the national security adviser level, as soon as it knew the shipment was on the move. He said that President Barack Obama also directed the US military to work out contingencies in case it became necessary to intercept the vessel (thereby sanctioning military action).
“Our Israeli counterparts ultimately chose to take the lead in interdicting the shipment of illicit arms,” Jay Carney said.
DEBKAfile reports that this was the first time in four years that the US and Israel have collaborated in an operation against Iran – ever since the Stuxnet virus attack in 2010 on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Until now, the Obama administration steadfastly refused to act against Iran for fear of jeopardizing the international diplomatic track for curbing its nuclear program.
The unusual frankness with which the Obama administration announced its coordination with Israel is both dramatic in itself and a road sign pointing the way to a radical change in its Iran policy. The US and Israel appear to be lining up – in their military policies as well – against the Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah bloc.
This radical turnabout was most probably the high point of the conversation between the US president and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the White House Monday, March 3, after which Netanyahu raised comment by showering Obama with praise during his speech to the AIPAC conference in Washington the next day.
DEBKAfile’s US and Israeli intelligence sources report that both countries are braced for a swift and stinging response from Tehran to the capture of the missile ship and its condemnation by the White House. As Carney put it: “We will continue to stand up to Iran’s support for destabilizing activities in the region in coordination with our partners and allies.These illicit acts are unacceptable to the international community and in gross violation of Iran’s Security Council obligations.”
Read DEBKAfile’s mearlier report on the interception and capture of the Iranian missile boat in Red Sea waters.
Israel’s elite Shayetet 13 (Flotilla 13) early Wednesday, March 5, boarded an Iranian Panama-registered cargo vessel KLOS C. Concealed in its hold under sacks of cement were dozens of 302mm rockets with a range of 150 kms, manufactured in Syria and destined by Iran for the Gaza Strip after being offloaded in Sudan.
The Israeli commandos seized the vessel in open sea on the maritime border of Sudan and Eritrea, 1500 south of Israel, and have set it on course for Eilat.
Sudan has been revealed by DEBKAfile’s military sources as having been transformed in the last two years into a major Iranian weapons manufacturing and logistic depot, which supplies Syria, HIzballah and Hamas. Port Sudan is also the hub for the smuggling of Iranian arms to various Middle East locations.
The IDF said the Iranian missile cargo was destined for the Palestinian Hamas which rules the Gaza Strip. If this is so, it would mean that Iran had gone back to arming Hamas with missiles and rockets after a two-year pause during which the Palestinian extremists were cold-shouldered by Tehran for their animosity to Syria’s Bashar Assad.
By the same token, it is hard to believe the Assad would consent to relay Syrian-made missiles to this antagonist. Some Middle East military sources believe the shipment as not destined for Palestinian terrorists for use against Israel, but rather for Muslim Brotherhood activists fighting the Egyptian army from their forward base in the Gaza Strip. They don’t rule out the possibility of Al Qaeda affiliates fighting in Sinai as being the address. Western intelligence has recorded instances of Iran entering into ad hoc operational collaboration with al Qaeda elements when it suits Tehran’s book.
The operation was carried out under an air umbrella by hundreds of naval commandos without casualties. It was directly commanded by the IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz from high command headquarters and the Navy Chief Maj. Gen Ram Rottberg from a floating command post at sea.
The rockets were flown from Syria to Iran, then loaded on a ship where they were concealed under sacks of cement inside containers. From the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, the ship headed into the Red Sea bound for Sudan where it was intercepted by Israeli commandos.
The Iranian arms ship’s progress was tracked all the way.
In congratulating the forces which seized the shipment, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu commented that this episode showed Iran’s true colors – in contrast to its diplomatic posture in nuclear negotiations with the West. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that Iran is again exposed as the biggest arms exporter in the world to terrorist organizations.