'Ship shows Iran-Lebanon arms route'

The Jerusalem Post (Link) (November 5, 2009)

Following the seizure of a massive shipment of Iranian arms bound for Hizbullah, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Thursday that the successful Israel Navy operation proved the arms flow to Syria and south Lebanon from Iran.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry stepped up diplomatic efforts, inviting foreign ambassadors stationed in Israel to inspect the container-loads of weapons.

The ministry told its staffers to present the weapons that are displayed at the Ashdod port, and detail their capabilities and intended use.

Furthermore, in an apparent effort to increase international pressure on Teheran at the UN, the Foreign Ministry has also instructed Israel's envoys abroad to bring up an the arms capture in discussions with foreign diplomats and media outlets.

Israeli ambassadors were instructed to stress that the attempt to smuggle arms to Syria and Hizbullah was an Iranian violation of a UN Security Council resolution, diplomatic sources told The Jerusalem Post.

"Iran continues to smuggle arms to terrorists under the guise of legitimate international commerce, turning the Mediterranean Sea into a platform for illegal action," the ministry reportedly wrote in a memo to the envoys.

Speaking to Israel Radio, Lieberman said that the public diplomacy arena was now the "most important arena" regarding the issue.

He said the weapons seizure "unequivocally and without a doubt" proved the Iran-Syria-south Lebanon weapons-trafficking route.

He went on to say that Israel would continue seeking to "get a moral majority" in UN institutions, consisting of countries that share "universal, humane values with us," stressing that "we're never going to convince Iran, Syria and [Venezuelan President] Hugo Chavez" to side with Israel.

"Unfortunately, there is currently an automatic majority against us," he lamented, noting, however, that in the recent UN Human Rights Council vote endorsing the Goldstone Commission's report on Operation Cast Lead, a significant number of countries backed Israel's position.

In addition, five MKs will travel to the UK on Sunday to hold discussions with British lawmakers concerning the Iranian weapons shipment, MK Nachman Shai (Kadima) announced in a statement Thursday.

Shai, who serves as the head of an Israel-British inter-parliamentary friendship union, said Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), Anastasia Michaeli (Israel Beitenu), Majallie Whbee (Kadima) and Yitzhak Vaknin (Shas) would be going on the trip, to meet with members of the British parliament, government officials and members of the press.

Shai said in his statement that "in the war on terror, including the Goldstone report, Israel is uniquely positioned and fights an international, just and moral battle."

Meanwhile, OC Navy Admiral Eli Marom and naval commanders will meet Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and brief him on Tuesday night's operation. IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Ehud Barak will also be present at the meeting.

The ship was released overnight Wednesday after 36 weapons-filled containers were unloaded, and the 12 crew members boarded the vessel and made their way back on their planned route.

Hundreds of tons of weaponry, the largest arms seizure in Israel's history, were intercepted in the daring raid by Israeli naval commandos aboard the cargo ship sailing 100 nautical miles west of Israel.

The arms shipment was 10 times the size of the cache found on the Palestinian arms ship Karine A in 2002, defense officials said.

The different types of arms offloaded from the ship were familiar to Israel as those Hizbullah already possesses in its arsenal, Israel Radio quoted defense officials as saying.

Military sources assessed Teheran would be forced to change its smuggling routes following the Israel Navy's successful operation.

The cache was hidden inside shipping containers belonging to the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) which departed from the Bandar Abbas Port in Iran some 10 days ago, were unloaded in the Egyptian port of Damietta and then loaded onto the Francop, a German vessel flying an Antiguan flag.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu addressed the international community concerning Iran's material support for terrorist organizations.

"Iran is sending these weapons to terror organizations to harm Israeli cities and kill its citizens," Netanyahu said. "The time has come for the international community to exert real pressure on Iran to stop this criminal activity and to support Israel when it defends itself against these terrorists and their patrons."

Regarding those who may doubt Iran's continual support for terrorist organizations, the prime minister said, "Whoever still needed decisive proof that Iran continues to send weapons to terrorist organizations, received it today in a very clear and unequivocal way."