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Israeli Navy Intercepts Alleged Iranian Arms Shipment Near Sudanese Port

Alleged Syrian-made rockets transferred by IRG to Gaza

The NY Times reports that the Israeli Navy captured a shipment of Iranian weapons on a ship in international waters near a Sudanese port.  Israel is claiming the Syrian-made advanced rockets were sent by Iran and destined for shipment to Gaza.  The commander of the Navy, Ram Rothenberg, led the operation himself, indicating how important the interception was both militarily, but even more importantly, politically.

Israel was quick to make unproven claims that the shipment represents the official political position of the Iranian government, meaning that it may not be trusted either with nuclear weapons or even in the negotiations about its nuclear program:

The apparent intelligence and operational coup provided Israel’s leaders with an opportunity to underscore their arguments about the true nature of the Iranian government at a time when the jworld powers are engaged in talks with Iran to curb its nuclear program.

“At a time when it is talking to the major powers, Iran smiles and says all sorts of nice things,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu…said in a statement. “The same Iran is sending deadly weapons to terrorist organizations.”

Iran is doing so, he said, “via a ramified network of secret operations in order to send rockets, missiles and other deadly weapons that will be used to harm innocent citizens.”

He continued: “This is the true Iran, and this state cannot possess nuclear weapons. We will continue to do whatever is necessary in order to defend Israel’s citizens.”

This, of course, is nonsense.  This is no more the official policy of the Iranian political echelon than saying that Israeli arms shipments to Syria rebels in the Golan represent Israel’s official position regarding the Syrian civil war.  Further, this sort of statement disregards the political situation within Iran.  Because of decades of military threat from Israel, the U.S. and other Gulf States, Iran has ceded massive amounts of power to its military arm, the Revolutionary Guards.  They are an autonomous center of power in much the same way that the Egyptian army, which wrested civilian control in a coup, is.

Here is how Prof. Muhammad Sahimi characterized the incident:

It is either fabrication, or carried out by hardliners in Tehran in order to scuttle the negotiations. They are opposed to the nuclear agreement and know that if a permanent agreement is signed, they will lose their economic and political power.

We have had at least two other similar operations by the hardliners in the past, in order to disrupt rapprochement between Iran and the West, one during Rafsanjani[‘s rule] and one during Khatami…

So, if the ship is from Iran, it was sent by rouge elements within IRGC without authorization even from Khamenei. That is what happened with the Karin-1 incident.

This is why people like me have been urging the West to be realistic with Iran, and recognize that with a reasonable agreement, Rouhani will be able to largely neutralize Tehran’s hardliners, but if the West demands too much, the hardliners will eventually remove him or neutralize him, in which case we will have war.

Alex Fishman, one of Israel’s best security reporters confirms the likelihood that the shipment is intended to undermine Iran’s political leadership:

Knowledgable sources in Israel concede that it is possible that that the civilian leadership, which is seeking to restrain the power of the Revolutionary Guards and impose its more conciliatory policies upon them, wasn’t aware of the arms shipment. This may’ve been an act of defiance against Pres. Rouhani, and something which could lead to an overt break between him and the IRG.

klos c seized ship

Klosteral, seized ship

The latter portion of this quotation sounds a bit too much like Mossad machinations to divide and conquer Iran as it has the Palestinians, Lebanese and Syrians. Israeli intelligence might remember that a showdown between Iran’s civilian leadership and the IRG could lead to a military coup in which the hardliners assume control of the political apparatus as well. Though this eventuality too might be attractive to Israel’s Machiavellian strategists since it would drive Iran farther into international isolation.

What I so object to regardingly Israel’s policy toward Iran is that it is like the bettor at the track who bets on all the horses to lose, rather than betting on one horse to win.  Israel doesn’t want any Iranian “horse” to win.  It wants them all to be weak and/or lose.  This sort of policy is essentially nihilistic, value-free, and almost rudderless.

Returning to Pres. Rouhani, he no more sent those weapons to Sudan than Bibi Netanyahu armed the former IDF soldiers who are fighting today in Ukraine.  My own confidential Israeli source has offered important information about the raid not reported elsewhere, which provides needed context.  This was an operation of the Revolutionary Guards.  The shipment was meant for the Islamic Jihad in Gaza.  The IRG, after dumping Hamas during the Syrian civil war, has embraced IJ as its new ally in Gaza.

What is most interesting and ironic about this if what Prof. Sahimi says is true, is that both the current Israeli government and Iranian hardliners have a common interest in scuttling the negotiations.  The IRG sent the shipment to sabotage the moderate political leadership and their happy collaborator in exposing the shipment was the Israeli government, which also wants the same thing.  It makes you wonder…

The State Department has taken the unusual step of taking credit for U.S. intelligence involvement in tracking the shipment and its interception.  This too appears to be an attempt by the U.S. to minimize the amount of hay Bibi can make from this incident.  If we knew about the shipment all along, we also presumably would’ve known the Iranian political echelon had no idea of what was happening.  Were this not the case, I’m certain we would be publicly denouncing Rouhani and Khamenei right now.

Israel gleaned the intelligence for this operation through two agents it had turned, one inside the IRG headquarters in Teheran and another in the IJ military wing.  According to my source, these double agents have been directed to leave Gaza and Iran, respectively, which is why Israel can expose the operation now.  Israeli SIGINT (Unit 8200) also was used in determining what the Iranians had planned and when to intercept them.

My source also confirms that while the timing of the operation itself was not political (they timed it for the moment when the ship was nearest Eilat, where the Navy’s operational base is), the timing of the release of the information is definitely political.  It was intended for maximum impact during Bibi’s visit to Washington and the day after his speech to Aipac, during which he excoriated Iran.  It is also meant to damage (though it’s questionable just how much it will) the P5+1 talks with Iran.  The Navy would have preferred not announcing the operation now, because its forces are still at sea and not back on Israeli territory.  But political considerations trumped the safety of Israeli personnel.

This incident raises several important issues which no U.S. or Israeli leader will address.  One is that the Syrian civil war is a tinder box that must be extinguished through negotiation with Iran and Syria’s other allies.  The longer we allow Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, and the Gulf States to turn that country into a proxy war, the more likely a huge regional explosion will occur.  Second, the failure to address the problems of Gaza including Israel’s siege there, is causing massive disruption to regional stability.  Even the current Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have intentionally refused to include Gaza: a major mistake.  You cannot truly resolve this conflict without a comprehensive solution that addresses Palestine as a single entity.  Another reason why ultimately, these talks must fail and why continued instability, exemplified by this arms shipment, will plague the region.

{ 28 comments… add one }
  • Shoshana March 5, 2014, 9:01 PM

    Richard. Your comment his begs the following question. If the the powerful IRGC has gone rogue in the past and delivered arms and missiles to Israel’s enemies, than whats to prevent the IRGC from going rogue again in the future and delivering a nuclear warhead to Israel’s enemies?

    • Richard Silverstein March 5, 2014, 10:11 PM

      @ Shoshana: So you see “going rogue” by smuggling rockets to Gaza in the same category as delivering a nuclear warhead to Israel’s enemies? And to which enemies who could use such a warhead would they deliver it?

      The very fact that you could advance such a preposterous notion shows you know nothing about Iran, its history, the record of the IRG, etc. Not to mention that Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon to deliver to anyone.

      • carl March 6, 2014, 3:35 AM

        I rather doubt that it is doable, tossing a nuclear warhead into a box and sticking it in the hull of some rust bucket ship. If this were a concern there should be a lot of sweaty palms about Pakistan and N Korea.

        • ben March 6, 2014, 11:18 AM

          you know first thing that jumped to my head was dirty bomb… but apprently that is just fear mongering…

          link to forbes.com

  • Ari Greenfield March 5, 2014, 10:42 PM

    Here is a video showing a rocket and other items seized in the raid…

    link to facebook.com

  • SimoHurtta March 6, 2014, 2:55 AM

    It is almost impossible to understand how this “to Gaza” works in reality. The distance from Sudan to Gaza is what? The distance from Port Sudan to Gaza is over 2000 kilometers. Most of it on Egyptian soil. Delivering almost 7 meter long and one ton weighting rockets would demand Egyptian official secret co-operation or an astonishing successful bribing operation of hundreds of custom, police and military officers to shut their eyes on the path of those thousands of kilometers of Egyptian roads, railroads or Nile. It would far more cheaper, less risky and easier to bribe Egyptian army personnel to sell equal weapons from Egyptian storage directly to Palestinians. Iranians only would need to “smuggle” to Gaza a couple of suitcases full of dollars and euros.

    Then comes the most difficult part in this complex smuggling operation. How to get those 7 meter long and 900 kg artillery rockets inside Gaza so that Israel doesn’t notice it? Gaza undoubtedly is one of the worlds most tightly guarded places on the earth. Especially the Gaza’s Egyptian border. The traditional “explanation” of Israelis is that the Palestinians disassemble the rockets to shorter parts and transport the parts through tunnels to Gaza. Disassembling a rather complex “machine” which these rockets/missiles are is done where and by whom? In some tent in Sinai by some smugglers? Well if it is possible so why don’t Iranians deliver already disassembled missiles. It would be then easier and cheaper to smuggle them to “Gaza”.

    In the end there is still one big mystery? How do Palestinians in Gaza fire these long and heavy artillery rockets, which demand relatively sophisticated launching systems in order to get them aimed and fired. The small rockets Palestinians in Gaza normally use can be prepared for launching in couple of tens of seconds. But a 7 meter long 915 kg artillery rocket without launching systems and cranes demands – how long? Ten of minutes to hours.

    What wins Iran with these claimed rockets? Why doesn’t Iran give Hamas (which by the way is a Sunni-organization) money for advanced anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, heavy machine guns, sniper rifles, night-vision equipment etc which would make Israeli raids against Gaza more “expensive” for Israel. The few rockets Iran could arrange to Gaza with enormous costs and risk of loosing face have no military meaning and even the propagandist fear value of those rocket launches benefits 1000 times more the Israeli side and gives Israel excellent “excuses” as we have seen in the Israeli propaganda. Gaza siege and making Gazans “thinner” (as Israeli Jews call it) without even those domestically made small rockets could not last long. Israel needs a steady stream of “rockets” in order to continue what it has done. Gaza “rockets” are the compulsory “asset” in annexing West Bank.

  • Shoshana March 6, 2014, 3:44 AM

    According to Ynet’s, Ron Ben Yishai, Iranian arms smuggling was likely aimed at preparing a ground response to attack an Israeli attack on Tehran’s nuclear facilities.
    link to ynetnews.com

    If Yishai is correct, it is unlikely that Iran really intends to negotiate an end to her nuclear weapons program.

    • Richard Silverstein March 6, 2014, 8:35 AM

      @ Shoshana: Pardon me, but that’s a totally dopey response. Because Iran wants to put in place a 2nd strike capability after being attacked by Israel, that means it wants a nuke and is willing to withstand an Israeli first strike to get one?? Puh-leeze. Iran totally plausibly believes Israel could & would launch a first strike against it just for HAVING a nuclear program, not necessarily for getting or having a nuclear weapon. Therefore it puts in place retaliatory capability just in case. If what Ben Yishai says is correct, a 2nd strike capability is entirely defensive in nature making an aggressor pay for launching a pre-emptive attack. He’s basically saying the rockets were only to be used in the event of an Israeli attack on Iran, but not to be used in run of the mill rocket attacks of the type IJ & others have launched on southern Israel including Eilat, etc.

      • Shohana March 6, 2014, 10:06 AM

        If Iran is preparing to negotiate away her nuclear program, than why prepare for a strike? Dopey question?

        • Richard Silverstein March 6, 2014, 1:10 PM

          Yup, pretty dopey. Iran isn’t preparing to negotiate away anything. It’s preparing for a nuclear agreement which everyone including the west understands will allow Iran’s nuclear program to continue, but under more stringent restriction & limitation than currently. Does Iran know now that such an agreement will be reached? No. What if it isn’t? Will Israel attack? Entirely possible. Does Iran trust Israel not to attack even if it does reach an agreement? Would you? I know I wouldn’t.

          Not to mention that I’ve outlined a split within Iran between pragmatists & hardliners. Each has a different level of trust in the west & these negotiations. The IRG doesn’t trust the west or the negotiations & hopes/believes they will fail. So if you’re a hardliner (obviously I’m not & not sympathetic to this view), you prepare for the worst.

          • Shoshana March 6, 2014, 9:13 PM

            [comment deleted: racist comments are not permitted, even ones made in jest]

      • abierno March 6, 2014, 12:54 PM

        Richard, given the implausibility of these rockets being slated for Gaza/Hamas, is the YNET shift to the Sinai Bedouin, the beginning of a walk back of assertion that Iran (Shi’ite) supplying weapons to the impregnably sieged Gaza? (Sunni) Also, is the IRG angle, blow back for their support for Assad and Syrian civilians ? Again, you appear to be the only source providing indepth reporting on this ongoing situation. Thanks.

  • SimoHurtta March 6, 2014, 4:59 AM

    The ships name by the way is Klostertal, not what reads in the picture text above. Klostertal is a region in Austria. Kloster means monastery and tal valley. Some religious irony in that ships name considering that who operate around this “saga”. Islamists and Zionist Jews with Americans.

    The Marine Traffic website says that Klostertal’s last port was in Port of UMM QASR. Which is not in Iran, surprise it is in Iraq. The “Syrian made” 302 rocket is obviously based on the Chinese WS-1 rocket. Turkey makes them under the name T-300 Kasırga. Khaibar-1 is the Syrian version. Wikipedia tells also Sudanese army has rockets and launchers of this 302 type. Could Palestinians in Gaza really use these relative advanced artillery rockets without launchers?

    What if they were Turkish rockets on the way to the Sudan’s army? In a ship registered in Panama going from IRAQ to SUDAN. Has Israel the right to stop such shipments?

    It is a bit amusing that Israel and USA know exactly what is put in secret to ships in Iraq and Iran, but miss the large artillery rockets smuggled to Gaza and being fired with “unknown” launchers.

    • Ari Greenfield March 6, 2014, 7:30 AM

      This video (produced by IDF) explains the stop in Iraq:

      link to youtu.be

      • SimoHurtta March 6, 2014, 10:45 AM

        Are you serious Ari Greenfield. That IDF video explains nothing. It is a animation and fiction. Iranians could produce an equal where Turks load the rockets to an Israeli plane. Then they would be transported to Eilat. From there by US plane to Kuwait. Then by truck to Umm Qasar, when AIPAC conference and this generations Casino mafia boss give the order. Etc.

        By the way Ari IDF produced the video with astonishing speed. When was the ship stopped? Today is already a ready animation video in internet. It would be interesting to see the timestamps of that video. Maybe it was produced already before the ship was stopped. Which makes this … what?

        The hilarious IDF has a “small” problem. How to get 7 meter long boxes inside the plane like the video shows (sideways, the long side in the front). The cargo door of An-225 is 640 cm. And the plane is certainly not the An-225. It would be a smaller plane. An-124 has also a maximum width 640 cm. Ilyushin IL-76 cargo door is only 315 cm. ETC. Syrians and Iranians armies surely know the capabilities of Israeli and US satellite capabilities. Why would they load such “sensitive” boxes to containers under the sky when it could be warehouse without US/Israel able to see what is loaded. “Sadly” this amusing IDF propaganda doesn’t tell how on earth do they get the rockets through the whole Egypt (Egyptian Army and police would certainly want to know how) and then finally to Gaza. And how do the Hamas “boys” launch the rockets.

        What makes strange is the absurd saga is why do Iranians need Syrian artillery rockets, when they have own Fajir-5 which is only a bit bigger caliber (333 mm). Before Israel claimed that Palestinians in Gaza have these Fajir-5 rockets. Well soon Israel will claim that Palestinians have in Gaza ballistic missiles ready to attack New York. What is frightful is that most Americans would believe such idiotic propaganda.

        By the way in Finnish media is very little or nothing about this new Israeli “heroic deed”. Why? Well because …

        • Richard Silverstein March 6, 2014, 1:18 PM

          @ simohurtta: The meme some of you folks are trying to suggest that Iran, or whoever controlled these munitions couldn’t get them into Gaza isn’t persuasive. OF course it would be incredibly difficult. But Iranians are some of the smartest, most creative smugglers in the world. They have to be given the decades of sanctions they’ve faced. Given how enormous Sinai is & how corrupt Egypt’s military and police are and how much support the Iranians prob have among Sinai Bedouin, there’s no doubt that they might’ve been able to do this.

          Of course, another possibility (rather remote) is that either the IRG or Iranian pragmatists didn’t mind being caught because they didn’t mind either sabotaging the talks (hardliners) or sabotaging the IRG (pragmatists).

          It’s also rather opaque, which is why I’d rather stick with what I know (& what sources I trust have told me happened) and not speculate about what might’ve happened. I can’t stop commenters from spinning their conspiracy theories, but I find them so speculative as to be worth almost nothing.

        • Ari Greenfield March 6, 2014, 1:42 PM

          Yes, I am serious. The video explains the IDF theory of why Iraq’s port was used. I couldn’t care less whether you believe it. I mentioned that it was produced by the IDF so readers could factor that in to their takeaway from it (which you clearly have done).

    • abierno March 6, 2014, 8:22 AM

      Good reporting by Richard, great comment by SimoHurtta. The Klosteral was purchased by a UAE co. Whitesea
      Shipping and Trading which services high end oil rigs. They provide services for US companies such as Hallburton,Shell etc. The route of these “Syrian made” rockets, as reported by BBC, is implausible – overland from Damascus to
      Tehran transiting Iraq, then south to Bandar Abbas, then north by sea to Umm Qasra, then south again – with the ultimate destination being Sinai where presumably they would have been off loaded, not Port Sudan. Not only is the route implausible but with the Egyptian army intensely focussed on Sinai, the idea of transhipping these rockets without notice is ludicrous. Also, with the tunnels destroyed – what was the projected entry point.? More, important, Hamas has kept their truce with Israel. The few homemade rockets shot into Israel have been the work of splinter groups. On the other hand there have been several, if not many, egregious violations by Israel, not only targeting unarmed civilians but also several bombing raids on “terrorists” which have injured civilians. I’m sure that inquiring minds will provide evidence indicating that this is a false flag operation. And of course, we all remember that Dubai in the UAE was the site of an infamous trageted assassination by Israel that was somewhat less than secret.

      • Shoshana March 6, 2014, 10:14 AM

        ” Also, with the tunnels destroyed – what was the projected entry point.?”

        Maybe the destination was Sinai, and not Gaza. There’s more places to hide rocket launchers in Sinai than Gaza and the rockets could just as easily reach Israel from Sinai.

  • ben March 6, 2014, 10:28 AM

    “So, if the ship is from Iran, it was sent by rouge elements within IRGC without authorization even from Khamenei. That is what happened with the Karin-1 incident.”

    I too would like to know more about the rouge elements withing the IRGC :)

    For me the scarry thing is what if during the end game negotiations America lets Iran Keep all the parts of a Nuke but not assembled… What would stop the IRGC from going behind the back of the weak civilian government and handing over parts to thier allies in Lebanon and Gaza?

    • Richard Silverstein March 6, 2014, 1:06 PM

      @ ben: There IS NO NUKE! How many times do you & others like you need to be told that. I repeat, NO NUKE. Not to mention when have you ever heard of Iran exporting any aspect of whatever nuclear program it does have to any of its allies? North Korea & Pakistan have actually done this & enabled massive nuclear proliferation around the world. Iran has many advanced weapons it could’ve proliferated had it wanted to. But it hasn’t. I’m not including whatever weapons it has possibly shipped to places like Lebanon, Syria or Gaza. Those are not advanced weapons. Iran has missile systems & other such munitions it could export. It doesn’t.

      So please stop the nonsense about nukes in backpacks multiplying like rabbits in Gaza. It’s so stupid as to be demeaning.

      Not to mention that there is a delicate power balance in Iran between hardliners & pragmatists. If either side overreaches it gives the other a chance to exploit error or weakness for its own advantage. The IRG/hardliners know that if they did anything really extreme or stupid they’d pay the price. Remember, they’re pragmatic, not wild-eyed mullahs as Bibi’s tried to paint them.

      • ben March 6, 2014, 1:32 PM

        Yeah I get that. Unfortunately I can’t edit posts. I did link on someone elses quote saying its just fear mongering.

  • Ari Greenfield March 6, 2014, 1:46 PM

    Richard, did I read correctly that you said the double agents in Iran were recalled & dismissed? What does that mean?

    • Richard Silverstein March 6, 2014, 8:00 PM

      @ Ari Greenfield: No, they were told to leave Iran & Gaza respectively and did so safely.

      • Ari Greenfield March 7, 2014, 7:49 AM

        @Richard Silverstein

        OK, one more question if I may, were these Israeli spies in Tehran and Gaza that were allowed to walk away? That’s pretty extraordinary isn’t it? I’m not doubting you or your source, so please do not think that. Thanks.

  • victor March 7, 2014, 10:12 AM

    Nobody has told me why this ship was intercepted in the Red Sea and not in Gaza’s territorial waters.

  • Co B.M. Oud March 9, 2014, 11:03 PM

    ON HOW TO CEMENT POWER: The vessel’s last port of call was in Iraq. From the Iranian port Bandar Abbas, it proceeded to the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr. The M-302 rockets were already covered by helpfully labeled ‘Made in Iran’ cement bags. The vessel went to Iraq to pick up more cement, Iraqi cement, also destined for Sudan, while that country has lots of cement production itself and exports it to the extent of 4.5% of GDP. Sudan does not import cement. This whole story sucks. The most amazing thing is that Iranian Quds Force intelligence supposedly smuggled the M-302 rockets via an Iraqi port that is secured by USA forces. Considering America’s intensive intelligence presence in the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr, the most intriguing question is what exactly took place there.

  • Ari Greenfield March 12, 2014, 8:43 PM

    @Richard Silverstein, et. al.,

    Today’s events in Gaza sure make this story take on a whole new significance, wouldn’t you say? At least two of the missiles fired today from Gaza were able to bypass the Iron Dome and hit populated areas…..

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