Early Tuesday morning (Israel Time), IDF fighters boarded the cargo ship Victoria at sea, then 200 miles out from Israel. The Victoria is a German-owned vessel, operated by a French company, and flying the Liberian flag. The commando unit executing this raid was Shayetet 13. This is the commando unit that was involved in the Mavi Marmara raid last year. That was the terrorist-carrying ship which created an international incident when it tried to run the Israeli blockade of Gaza. (AKA the Guerilla Floatilla).
The boarding was based on confirmed intelligence that the vessel was carrying illicit arms destined for terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip. It sailed Monday night from the Syrian port of Lattakai bound for Turkey. There, it was supposed to unload the weapons, which would be conveyed by land to Gaza. Lattakai is the same port where two Iranian war ships docked in February after traversing the Suez Canal. At the time, IDF officials raised concerns of the possibility that they were carrying weapons intended for terrorists organizations, but there was no confirmation.
“The operation was approved as necessary in accordance with government directives in light of Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz’s recommendations,” Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, Head of the Foreign Press Branch, said during a conference call this morning. Gantz updated Defense Minister Ehud Barak about the findings on-board the vessel Tuesday morning.
“The IDF and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs alerted German authorities about the interception of the “Victoria” due to the German ownership of the ship.”
In addition, the government of Liberia, whose flag it was flying under, was notified, as well as France, due to the French shipping company. The Israeli Navy has conducted numerous operations over the years against Iranian smuggling to Hamas and Hezbollah. The IDF believes 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.
The IDF has not said yet exactly what types of weapons they found on the ship but based on what can be seen in the pictures they provided, one can assume that they could do much damage. According to Lt. Col. Leibovich, the most important fact here is that the IDF can draw a direct line from Syria to the attempt to smuggle weapons into Gaza. The weapons are Iranian.
Lt. Col. Leibovich did not know whether the weapons were connected to the Iranian warships that passed through the Suez Canal three weeks ago. But this is a distinct possibility.
Lt. Col. Leibovich did not know whether the crew knew what they were carrying. But, it should be noted that nothing in the freight manifest of the Victoria revealed the true nature of the content of the ship’s containers, in violation of the relevant provisions of the International Maritime Organization’s Conventions and professional standards, including the Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG).
The IDF did not notify anyone in advance that it was going to board the ship. The IDF informed the Germans, the French, the Liberians and the Americans only after it had opened the three containers of weapons. Intriguingly, Lt. Col. Leibovich did not answer when asked whether the Germans and French knew what was on the ships when they were contacted.
This raises some concerns for the world community, especially the need to prevent smuggling arms to terrorists. This attempt at moving large amounts of weaponry aboard the Victoria provides additional proof of Israel’s imperative need to examine all goods entering the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Israel cannot allow weapons and military equipment to reach the hands of terrorists, who will use them against its civilian population. If the world community doesn’t want to act, Israel will.