Last week, commandos from the Israeli naval forces intercepted and captured a Panamanian-flagged civilian cargo ship, called the KLOS-C, in the Red Sea near Sudan. It was carrying 181 mortar shells, around 400,000 rounds of ammunition, and 40 M-302 surface-to-surface missiles with ranges of up to 100-125 miles. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about the interception of the weapons, alleging that they were made in Syria, destined for Gaza and intended for use against the United States. Gaza is governed by Hamas, a militant Palestinian Islamist movement which has, for years, fired rockets over the border into Israel, but nothing like the M-302 rockets. Israel’s interception of this alleged Iranian arms shipment has increased the anxiety of an already justifiably paranoid country.
Along with Netanyahu’s comments, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) elaborated on the details of how they knew of the weapons. According to their report, the IDF had been tracking the weapons for several months. Before being brought to a port in southern Iran where they were loaded onto the KLOS-C, the weapons were flown from Damascus to Tehran. After departing Iran, the KLOS-C made a stop in Iraq where apparently containers of cement were added to her cargo.
Upwards of 60 rockets have been fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip since the beginning of 2013, according to Israel. Hamas has denied this, stating that it has stayed true to a ceasefire brokered in 2012 with Israel. Regardless, the rockets that have been previously fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip have never been anything close to the M-302 rockets. Former director of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, Arieh Herzog, has called the M-302’s a “game-changer” because “it’s a missile that’s significantly longer-range than they have now in Gaza, with a bigger warhead. If you draw a circle 200 kilometers long, it could hit Haifa and of course Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.” Herzog was also responsible for the developing and deploying Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system which has successfully intercepted and destroyed incoming rockets from the Gaza Strip. However, the M-302 rockets that Israel intercepted in the alleged Iranian arms shipment would likely pose a challenge to the Iron Dome missile defense system.
The interception of these weapons comes at a time when Israel has been vying for greater international support and action towards curbing Iran’s nuclear program. Israel is a fervent proponent of the idea that if Iran gains the ability to successfully build even one nuclear weapon, it will be used against Israel which it does not recognize as a state. Iran has long been considered by Israel as an existential threat and a supporter of various terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East. Iran has dismissed Israel’s allegations, calling them a flat out lie. Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian Foreign Minister, was quoted as saying: “Netanyahu is in Washington… and all of a sudden as a godsend, they capture a ship from Iran with missiles. Just a coincidence?”
On the other side of the equation, though not in response to Zarif’s aforementioned comment, Netanyahu had this to say about Iran: At a time when it talks with the world powers, at a time when Iran is smiling and saying all sorts of pleasantries, that same IRan is sending lethal weapons to terror organizations and it is doing it with an elaborate network of covert global operations with the aim of streaming rockets, missiles and other lethal weapons to harm innocent civilians…This is the real Iran and that country must not be able to have a nuclear weapon.”At the rate that Iran’s nuclear program has been operating (enriching uranium, etc.) and regardless of any purported efforts by the international community to curb it, the world will know sooner rather than later whether or not Iran has developed a nuclear weapon. If it is proven that Israel intercepted an Iranian arms shipment, it would be a solid indicator of Iran’s current mindset, intentions and capabilities, at least toward Israel.
By Taylor Schlacter