Iran has said that Israel’s claim of seizing a ship with Iranian weapons bound for the Lebanese group Hizbollah is an attempt to divert international attention from the Goldstone report which alleges that Israel is guilty of war crimes during its winter offensive in the Gaza strip.
“We strongly reject such claims. Israel has made this accusation to distract the international community’s attention away from the investigating committee’s report on atrocities it committed in Gaza,” Iran’s United Nations mission said in a statement.
On Wednesday, the Israeli military alleged that it had boarded The Francop, an Antiguan-flagged ship carrying rockets, hand grenades, mortars and at least 3,000 missiles. It added that the cargo had been loaded at the Egyptian port of Damietta, and was bound for Syria with a halt in Beirut.
Rejecting the Israeli allegations, Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said: “In case the Israeli claims were right, then why did they release the ship’s crew in less than 36 hours?” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem said that contrary to Israel’s claims, “the ship was not carrying Iranian-made weaponry for Syria or Lebanon”. Instead, it was carrying Syrian-made items for consumption in Iran.
The seizure of the ship coincided with the U.N. General Assembly debate on the 575-page report authored by South African jurist Richard Goldstone. The investigation documents in considerable detail, a number of Israeli actions taken during its war in Gaza, which, in its view, amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The General Assembly has subsequently endorsed the report and has sought further action on its findings.
The Israelis, on their part, have followed the seizure of the ship with a demand that the Security Council should open an immediate investigation into the incident. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has been quoted as saying that the Israeli Navy’s seizure illustrated a “great absurdity”. “On the one hand, Iran is sending weapons to hornets’ nests of terrorists in order to kill our civilians. On the other hand, the Goldstone report points the finger at Israel.”