US Response to Israeli Seizure of Iranian Weapons Shipment - Full Speed Ahead on Negotiations with Iran
The White House appeared to double down on its policy of engagement with Iran following Wednesday's dramatic pre-dawn high seas capture of an Iranian missile cache destined for Hamas by Israeli naval commandos.
Senior administration officials worked quickly to prevent the raid from undermining public confidence in President Obama's continued belief that Iran is a trustworthy and reliable negotiating partner, even going so far as to claim credit for the raid themselves.
Several dozen advanced medium range missiles were found hidden under false bottoms of phony shipping containers on board the Panamanian flagged "Klos-C" frigate seized in a dramatic pre dawn raid about 1,000 miles south of the Israeli port of Eilat.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Israeli weapons interdiction was actually the result of high level intelligence sharing between the US and Israel. State Department spokesman Jen Psaki went even further, claiming it was the US Navy, which she said first identified the frigate, which was planning to interdict the ship itself, but that Israel, "ultimately chose to take the lead."
Psaki claimed the White House ordered the Pentagon to closely track the ship in order to prepare "unilateral steps if necessary." US actions, she claimed, demonstrate just how seriously the US regards Iranian attempts to empower terrorist groups seeking to "destabilize" the Middle East.
Israeli forces intercepted the "Klos-C" near Port Sudan early Wednesday morning. According to IDF Lt. Col Peter Lerner, the Gaza-bound missile shipment originated in Damascus. Lerner said the advanced Syrian made M-302 missiles were flown from Damascus to Teheran, where they were transported by truck to the Persian Gulf port of Bandar Abbas. Then they were loaded onto the Klos-C, which docked at an Iraqi port to create a "smoke-screen".
The missiles were to have been off-loaded at Port Sudan, Sudan where they were to have been trucked all the way from Sudan to the Egyptian-Gaza border were they were to have been smuggled across secret tunnels to Hamas operatives in Gaza. IDF sources say successful delivery of the medium range missiles to Gaza would have dramatically increased Hamas ability to reach any target in Israel.
Last December a six month interim agreement on Iran's nuclear program - largely negotiated by the US - was reached between Iran and the P5+1 group. While the terms of that deal remain a secret, the US acknowledges that the deal grants Iran the right to continue "low-level" uranium enrichment at least for the next six months .
The White House continues to strenuously oppose any efforts by Congress to reinforce that agreement through legislation that would automatically reimpose the sanctions that were lifted if a permanent agreement has not been reached by the time the interim deal expires in June.