Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went on the offensive by characterising the incident at sea as an illustration of Tehran's support for “terrorist organisations”.
Iran and Israel are engaged in a war of words at a time when a new round of nuclear talks meant to normalise Tehran's ties with the West are taking place in Vienna. On Wednesday, Israel said it had thwarted an attempt by Iran to ship advanced missiles to the Gaza strip, the stronghold of the Palestinian Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.
The Israeli daily Haaretz is reporting that a Special Forces unit, Shayetet 13, overpowered Klos C — a Panama registered vessel — that was carrying dozens of 302 mm rockets that were manufactured in Syria. The interception of the vessel, bound for the Gaza strip via Sudan, took place 1,500 kilometers from the Israeli coast.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is in the United States, following a meeting of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — a powerful Israeli lobbying group — was quick to channel the incident to buttress his opposition to the on-going nuclear dialogue between Iran and the six global powers. As another round of talks between Iran and its interlocutors — the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany — commenced in Vienna on Wednesday, Mr. Netanyahu went on the offensive by characterising the incident at sea as an illustration of Tehran's support for “terrorist organisations”.
“At a time when Iran is talking with world powers, is smiling and uttering pleasantries, it is also sending deadly weapons to terrorist organisations - via an elaborate network of secret operations around the world that aim to funnel rockets, missiles and other deadly weapons to be used to harm innocent civilians,” the Israeli premier observed.
In the Austrian capital, Syed Abbas Araqchi, a senior Iranian nuclear negotiator, stressed that Iran had entered talks to build confidence with the six world powers. In its robust riposte to the Israeli accusations, Iran firmly rejected that it was shipping missiles to the blockaded Gaza Strip. Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Iran's deputy foreign minister for Arab and African Affairs asserted on Wednesday that the “allegation is merely based on repetitious and baseless fabrications”.
In Gaza, Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the alleged beneficiaries of the shipped consignment of weapons, also rejected the accusation. Hamas interior ministry spokesperson said the incident was a pretext to justify Israel's blockade of Gaza. He pointed out that Hamas was well aware that Gaza's maritime zone was under Israeli surveillance. The group would therefore not be so naïve as to procure large arms shipment from the sea.
Haaretz quoted a Palestinian official in Ramallah as saying that the timing of the operation raises questions. “The ship has been sailing for weeks and it is seized exactly when (Mr.) Netanyahu is in Washington,” the official said. “The entire operation and the reports raise many questions regarding the timing and whether the event was real or fabricated.”
Israel and Iran have locked horns at a time when Iran has stepped up development of its advanced weaponry, apparently to help deter threats of an attack led by Washington and Tel Aviv, to destroy its nuclear infrastructure. Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard on Wednesday said it had now developed missiles with multiple warheads. Iran's defence minister, Hossein Dehghan announced delivery of four types of ballistic missiles: Qiam, Qadr H1, Fateh-110 and Persian Gulf. He said that Qadr H1 and Qiam were mounted with multiple warheads.
“These missiles are able to hit and destroy enemy targets with precision, and they meet a variety of the armed forces' needs,” he observed. Gen. Dehghan asserted that the availability of these weapons had “strengthened Iran's deterrence power and military might”.