PM Netanyahu: Ship’s takeover was meant to stop missiles from reaching terrorists and to expose ‘true face’ of Iran
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday the seizure of the cargo ship carrying missiles from Iran bound for Gaza had two goals – to prevent the weapons from reach terror groups and to “expose the true face of Iran” to the world.
“Iran denies its involvement, but it’s lying. We will provide proof of this tomorrow,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. The prime minister and Israel’s top brass are expected to head to the Red Sea port of Eilat Monday for a news conference and display of the captured weaponry.
Referring to the talks being held in Tehran Sunday between Iran’s top leaders and EU foreign policy Catherine Ashton, Natanyahu added: “I wish to ask Ashton whether she asked her Iranian hosts about the weapons shipment to terror organizations, and if she hasn’t, why not. No one has the right to ignore the true, murderous activity of the regime in Iran.”
The top commander of the Israeli Defense Forces, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, told the troops that took part in last week’s operation that “each one of these rockets is a security threat to Israel and its citizens. Each bullet and each rocket have an address. Our battle for preventing [terrorists from] gaining strength in general and gaining access to critical components with strategic influence did not end when we reached our home port. We must carry on working because we will have more missions to carry out.”
Israeli naval commandos seized the vessel on Wednesday in the Red Sea between Eritrea and Sudan, with the military saying it was carrying an Iranian shipment of M-302 rockets destined for the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
The Panamanian-flagged Klos-C was escorted into Eilat port by two Israeli warships. The vessel’s crew of 17, including its Turkish captain, were set to be released.
“They are on the ship. They will remain with the ship. Given that they have no hand in the arms smuggling, they will continue on their way,” an Israeli military official was quoted by Reuters as saying.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif rejected Thursday on Twitter the Israeli announcement that it intercepted an Iranian ship carrying rockets to Gaza.
“An Iranian ship carrying arms for Gaza. Captured just in time for annual (pro-Israel lobby) AIPAC anti Iran campaign. Amazing Coincidence! Or same failed lies,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.
Initial reports indicated the weapons were destined for the Hamas movement, which rules the Gaza enclave. But Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon indicated otherwise. In one of several news conferences and briefings that followed the ship’s seizure, Ya’alon said: “What has emerged from this operation is that there is a terrorist entity, an Iranian arm, that is funded, trained and armed by Iran.” The reference appears to be to the Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group closely tied to Iran.
The United States said Wednesday that its intelligence services and military worked with Israel to track the ship carrying an intercepted shipment of advanced Iranian rockets headed for Gaza. The ship was seized at dawn on Wednesday by Israeli naval commandos, who found the M-302 rockets hidden in crates covered by sacks of cement, apparently to put off curious eyes.
President Barack Obama also directed the US military to work out contingencies in case it became necessary to intercept the vessel, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One.
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