Not for the first time, the IDF intercepted a ship attempting to run the Gaza blockade, this time apparently without getting attacked after boarding the vessel. Unlike last May, this ship was flagged as Liberian rather than Turkish, but the ship last sailed from Mercen in Turkey. The ship contained “dozens of tons” of arms, apparently made in Iran (via Carl in Jerusalem):
The IDF seized a freighter ship with dozens of tons of weaponry from Iran headed for Hamas in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday.
The ship, known as Victoria, was flying a Liberian flag, and was seized by the navy in the Mediterranean Sea, 200 miles off of Israel’s coast.
The Victoria was boarded by commandos from the Israeli Navy’s Flotilla 13, also known as the Shayetet, and is expected to arrive in the Ashdod port on Tuesday evening.
An initial inspection of the cargo revealed the ship was carrying weapons. The exact amount is to be determined.
The crew, questioned by the Navy Commando, was not aware that the cargo contained weaponry.
Turkey created a diplomatic furor the last time Israel interdicted a flotilla attempting to run the blockade, accusing the Israelis of attacking Turkish nationals illegally in international waters. The incident finally fizzled out after a few weeks, but the diplomatic damage between Israel and one of its few friends in the Muslim world was irreparably damaged, it appears.
The UN has sanctions in place against the Iranians that specifically forbid arms transactions with Iran, which was intensified in September 2008. The EU, which Turkey aspires to join, also explicitly forbids “the import and export of arms and all equipment, items, materials, goods, technology and software that could contribute to uranium enrichment” from Iran. According to Carl’s live blog of a briefing on the seizure, it’s possible that Turkey wasn’t aware of the cargo, and that the arms were already on board:
The ship originated out of Latakia, which is in Syria, and also passed through Mercen, which is in Turkey. The IDF believes that the ship’s final destianation was Alexandria in Egypt, and from there its cargo would be shipped over land to Gaza.
The IDF believes that that neither Egypt nor Turkey has any connection to the ship’s cargo. The evidence it has indicates that Syria and Iran were the main actors.
That’s considerably more grace offered by Israel to its two putative allies than either showed to Israel in the clash last May. It’s also possible that the arms may have been meant for opposition elements in Egypt. Iran cheered the revolt in Egypt last month, apparently hoping for an Islamist revolution there, and the transmission of arms could have been a clumsy attempt to undermine the army. It’s more likely, though, that Iran and Syria hoped to reinforce their Hamas allies in Gaza rather than risk a provocation of Egypt’s military.
In the future, Turkey should take more care with ships coming from Syria. The UN should take action against Syria for attempting to defy sanctions on Iran as well, but I doubt that even a scolding would get through the Security Council.