Members of Israel Defense Forces has intercepted and taken possession of a ship containing Iranian missiles that were on route to Gaza. According to an IDF spokesman, the KLOS C vessel, which was registered in Panama, was boarded early this morning off the coast of Somalia by Israeli naval forces, which uncovered several caches of medium-range rockets.
The M-302 rockets, which were discovered under a pile of cement bags were manufactured in Syria and have a distance of about 100 miles. Fired from Gaza, they would have been able to reach many of the country’s largest cities.
The ship left Iran approximately 10 days ago and was to stop in Sudan before traveling on to Gaza. According to the IDF, the civilian-registered vessel was staffed by personnel of varying nationalities. All of the personnel have been taken into custody and were transported to Israel for questioning.
IDF Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the vessel headed to Gaza was intercepted for safety reasons. He confirmed that the tracking and successful seizure of Iranian missiles was the result of a “complex, covert operation” directed at reducing terrorist organizations’ ability to bomb towns and cities within the Jewish state from neighboring areas.
Lerner said that the most advanced version of the M302 missile has the capacity to travel as much as 100 miles. Had the shipment made it to Gaza, he speculated, it could have been launched toward major population centers within the country. The M302 was reportedly used by the Hezbollah in the 2006 Lebanon War, and was successful in reaching Haifa from the Lebanese border.
The intercept operation was ordered by IDF Chief of Staff Benny Ganz and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Tuesday. IDF was able to confirm that a shipment of missiles had been transported by plane from Syria to Iran and then loaded on a vessel headed for the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr. Leaving Iraq, the ship was tracked heading for Sudan, where it was eventually to depart again for Gaza.
“The IDF will continue to operate against [Iran’s efforts] to arm regional terrorist organizations,” Learner said.
On Tuesday, the IDF reportedly bombed locations in Gaza that it said were being used to launch rockets across the border. Two men were killed in the operation, Musab Zaanin, 25, who the terrorist organization Islamic Jihad identified as a member of its military personnel, was killed in the attack. Yousef Nasser, 22 also was wounded and later died from his wounds. It is not known if Nasser was a member of a terrorist organization.
The bombing followed a series of missile attacks against Israeli cities and villages in January and February. The IDF also reported detecvting a number of failed rocket launches by suspected terrorists from within Lebanon and Gaza. According to the government, attacks against population centers have been increasing. Since the beginning of January, southern cities has sustained more than 20 different rocket and mortar attacks against towns and cities near its borders.
As to the seizure of the KLOS C, Learner said the IDF would continue to monitor shipments that may pose a threat to Israel. The KLOS C is reportedly the fourth ship that has been intercepted by the military and found to be carrying arms destined to Gaza since 2002.
Hamas spokesman, Taher Al-Nono waved off the news as a “silly joke,” saying that the IDF’s announcements were solely intended to “justify and prolong the blockade of Gaza.,” which Hamas controls. Iran has not offered any comment on today’s seizure.
The IDF maintains, however, that it has irrefutable evidence that the missiles intercepted in shipment on route to Gaza were of Iranian origin, and support the government’s statement that Iran’s actions continue to be a threat to the safety of Israel.