A 140 meter long cargo ship, called the Francop, was boarded by elite Israeli navy commando forces of the Shayetet 13 unit last night outside of Cyprus, some 100 nautical miles west of Israel in the Mediterranean. The ship was in deep sea and the navy used small boats to approach it.
Our forces, which encountered no resistance from the crew, uncovered a cache of some hundreds of tons of weapons in dozens of containers, hidden behind what appeared to be civilian cargo. The weapons included a large number of 22 mm. Katyusha rockets, assault rifles, mortar shells, grenades and anti-aircraft platforms not previously found in the region.
These weapons were sent by Iran, and were destined for Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The vessel was being operated by a Cypriot charter company called UFS, and was flying an Antiguan flag. It had apparently originated its journey in Iran, had stopped at Damietta Port in Egypt, and was bound for Limassol, Cyprus. Following this, it was due to anchor tomorrow in Beirut and then continue on to Latakia Port in Syria by the weekend. This particular ship routinely docks in these various ports.
Military Intelligence had been following it since it started on its journey, and the operation was well-planned in advance.
A representative of UFS said the company had no idea what was inside the containers: “We knew that we were delivering containers, but we are not legally permitted to check what is inside them. This is the responsibility of the customs authorities at the ports where we anchor. We do not know what happened on the ship. We are waiting…for answers.
“This is the first time something like this happens to us. I hope this will not damage the relations between Cyprus and Israel, because it is just business for us.”
And indeed, Israeli navy authorities are convinced that the crew had no idea what was in the containers.
Its cargo is currently being unloaded at the Ashdod port for further inspection.
This echoes the incident of the Karine A weapons ship, which was intercepted near Gaza in 2002, carrying a weighty cache of weapons from Iran.
However, Israel Navy Chief Brig. Gen. Rani Ben-Yehuda said, “The quantity of arms seized on the weapons ship Francop is ten times or even more than the quantity of weapons on the Karine-A ship.” Enough to arm Hezbollah for a month of fighting with Israel.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem denied that the Francop was carrying weapons. He said [commercial] goods were being brought to the port in Damascus and that the Israeli forces are “pirates.”
Why do they bother, when we’ve unloaded the ship and know what it carried? I’ve learned: this is very much the Arab style, and a great bewilderment to the Western mind.
Mouallem, it should be mentioned, is in Teheran for a two day visit, and declared that “no nation could harm the relations between Syria and Iran.”
There are words of praise from the Israeli government for the success of this operation. And with it, words of warning as to the intentions of Iran and the need for that non-stop vigilance.
Prime Minister Netanyahu said these weapons were meant for Israel cities.
From Foreign Minister Barak:
“This is another success in the incessant battle against the smuggling of arms and military buildup by terrorist organizations who threaten Israel’s security,”
And appropriate words from opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima):
“We all today praise the Navy and IDF over the seizure of the ship – it’s not a controversial matter. There are issues over which there are no coalition and opposition. We are all partners in the people of Israel’s war on terror – whether it’s Hamas, Hezbollah or other supporters [of terror]. Well done.”
We know who are friends are.
Yesterday, the US House of Representatives passed a nonbinding resolution urging President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to oppose unequivocally any endorsement of the Goldstone Report. The vote was 344-36, with 22 representatives voting present. A resounding and much appreciated display of support.
Meanwhile, the UN General Assembly is meeting on the issue of that report. With some 40 speakers scheduled, discussion is expected to continue into tomorrow before a vote is taken.
Egypt, a nation with which we are ostensibly at peace, is taking full advantage of this forum to slam us. Its ambassador to the UN, Magued Abdel Aziz, was the first to take the floor. He said:
“[The report] verifies grave violations of international law by Israel during the Gaza campaign… it was revenge against civilians and it went against international law… This kind of blatant violation of human right must be stopped.”
This is the same Egypt whose soldiers sometimes shoot African refugees in the back.
The Senegalese spoke on behalf of the Palestinians, and Sweden spoke on behalf of the EU. The Syrian ambassador also addressed the assembly. What a line-up.
Our ambassador, Gabriela Shalev, told the assembly that the report was “conceived in hate and executed in sin,” and that the Goldstone commission was a “politicized body with predetermined conclusions.” The decision of the Human Rights Council to move the report to the General Assembly was, she said, “a cynical political maneuver.” In closing she said that this debate would hinder and not further peace.
And who was listening in that assembled body?
The stark juxtaposition of the above two events, occurring on the same day, cannot pass unnoticed:
We are facing the development of ever-greater military capabilities on the part of the enemies at our borders. This awareness was certainly forced upon us by the capture of the arms shipment from Iran.
We know that wars are likely not far away.
And at the same time we are fighting within the international diplomatic arena for our right to defend ourselves against those enemies.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Netanyahu is flying to Washington for meetings and taking Defense Minister Barak with him. In spite of my best efforts to learn what their agenda will be, I have been able to learn nothing of substance.
Am I uneasy? I cannot deny that I am. Hopefully Netanyahu will focus on Iran.
It seems the Obama administration is finally willing to acknowledge that the Israeli-Palestinian “peace negotiations” are going nowhere quickly. According to the Washington Post today, the US government has now concluded that high-level talks are not likely to start any time soon. And so it hopes instead to promote lower level talks that will maintain some momentum, which will theoretically pick up steam over time.
At a news conference today, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat declared that if Israel continues to expand settlements and the US doesn’t stop it, then the Palestinians may have to abandon the goal of an independent state.
It may be time, he said, for PA president Mahmoud Abbas to “tell his people the truth, that with the continuation of settlement activities, the two-state solution is no longer an option.”
What nonsense this is.
I clarify again: There is no building by Israel going on in Judea and Samaria that is “expanding settlements.” The understanding we had with the US government prior to Obama, and which is being honored by us, is that the perimeters of our communities are not to be expanded; building is being done within those communities.
What is more, Abbas negotiated with Olmert even while Israel was building in Judea and Samaria. This does not stop negotiations. In theory (please G-d, only in theory), any communities that fell within territory that is allotted to a Palestinian state could be dismantled.
Depending on how we read this, this statement may be a way of bowing out of participation in peace negotiations (which they don’t want), while putting the onus on us. Or it may be a way to coerce us to do more — or to frighten the US into pressuring us further.
I spoke yesterday about the expectation of violence. Claiming there is no possibility of a “two state solution” might also be a way of setting the stage for violence.
Over and over I am reminded of the complexity of this situation — the personalities involved, the various goals, the behind-the-scene maneuvering, the play-acting. From one source I am picking up PA statements so convoluted with regard to what the Palestinians demand and what has been promised that I won’t even attempt to analyze it here. I will simply note it, and then table it watchfully, until I can make further sense of it.