Israel on Sunday said it had found 40 long-range rockets aboard a ship it intercepted in the Red Sea, charging that it carried weapons sent by Iran to Gaza Strip militants.
A statement from the Israeli military said the M-302 rockets with a range of 160km were found in containers offloaded from the Panamanian-flagged Klos-C.
The vessel was intercepted by Israeli naval commandos on the high seas on Wednesday last week between Sudan and Eritrea, and escorted to the Red Sea port of Eilat by two warships. It arrived late on Saturday and was inspected and unloaded on Sunday in an operation dubbed “Full Disclosure.”
A statement said security forces searching the Klos-C had found “40 rockets [type M-302], up to the range of 160 kilometers, 181 122mm mortar shells, approximately 400,000 7.62-calibre rounds.”
It said the unloading and inspection of containers was carried out by a combined task-force including the Israeli Navy, the Combat Engineering Corps and the Ordnance Corps.
“Each one of these rockets poses a threat to the safety of the citizens of Israel — each bullet and each rocket that was discovered had an Israeli address,” army chief Lieutenant General Benny Gantz told sailors who took part in the operation.
“Our efforts in preventing the proliferation of weapons and the supply of critical components with strategic influence over the region is not over,” Gantz said.
“There are many other missions ahead of us,” he said.
Iran has flatly denied any involvement with the shipment, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday accused the Islamic republic of “brazenly lying” over its involvement in the shipment, in remarks. He said his remarks were directed at EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, who is in Iran.
“I’d like to ask her if she asked her Iranian hosts about the delivery of weapons to the terror groups, and if she didn’t, why not?” he said at the weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday.
“Nobody has the right to ignore the real, murderous actions of the regime in Tehran,” he added.
Ashton’s visit, the first by an EU foreign affairs chief since 2008, comes after Iran signed a preliminary deal in November last year with world powers under which it agreed to curb its disputed nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.
Israel was harshly critical of the agreement and is pushing hard for world powers to keep a series of crippling economic sanctions in place.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Friday last week rejected the Israeli allegation of Tehran’s involvement in the weapons shipment.
Netanyahu told public radio Israel would not hesitate to stage further interceptions of weapons shipments.
“We are going to prove that Iran organiszes secret operations to arm terrorist groups in Gaza,” he said.
The Islamist Hamas movement ruling Gaza, as well as the militant group Islamic Jihad, have denied they are linked to the weapons shipment.
Sudan, where Israel said the weapons were to be offloaded before being shipped overland to Gaza via Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula, has also denied any involvement.