Israel’s navy yesterday escorted into port a ship its commandos seized, saying it had arms from Iran bound for militants in the Gaza Strip, Israel’s media reported.
Military specialists in the southern port of Ashdod would begin checking 39 containers on the deck of the Victoria to ascertain the exact amount and type of arms and munitions they contained, army radio reported.
The Liberian-flagged Victoria was intercepted on Tuesday as it sailed about 370km west of Israel’s territorial waters.
It arrived at Ashdod in the early hours of yesterday.
Top defense officials said earlier that its cargo included Chinese-made C704 anti-ship missiles, which would be a threat to Israeli naval patrols off the Gaza coast.
“[There are] two to four missiles, shore-to-sea missiles, of type C704, a missile with ... a range of 35km,” the deputy commander of the Israeli navy, Rear Admiral Rani Ben-Yehuda, told journalists.
“Anything within its range, of course, will find itself in danger,” he said.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak made an apparent reference to the same items.
“We suspect, we think, that among the weapons there is also the beginnings of an advanced system which could affect our freedom of action along the Gaza shores,” he said.
During Israel’s 2006 war with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, guerrillas hit an Israeli warship with an Iranian-made missile based on Chinese technology, killing four crewmen.
Israel said the Victoria had sailed from the Turkish port of Mersin, headed for Egypt, but that the arms originated in Iran and were destined for Gaza.
“On the boat we discovered many weapons destined for terror groups in the heart of Gaza,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “We had clear evidence that the vessel was carrying weapons intended to harm Israel.”
“The source of the weapons was Iran, which is trying to arm the Strip,” he said, adding that Tehran had sent the arms through a “relay station” — seemingly alluding to Syria.
Military spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovich said the weapons were believed to have been loaded in the Syrian port of Latakia, but she stressed that Turkey was not involved.
“As far as we understand it, Turkey has no relevance or connection to this event,” Leibovich said. “This was from Syria to radical components in Gaza.”