When naval commandos from the Israel Defense Force (IDF) boarded the Panama-registered Klos-C merchant ship early Wednesday morning, they uncovered the most significant illicit Iranian arms shipment since the Karine A incident in 2002. According to news reports, the shipment included “advanced Syrian M-302 missiles, with a range of up to 200 kilometers (125 miles) and a payload of up to 170 kilograms (375 pounds).”
The M-302 missiles were bound for Gaza via Sudan, according to the IDF. If fired from Gaza, the M-302 would easily be able to strike Israel’s major population centers, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The Klos-C had embarked from Iran and stopped in Umm Kasr, Iraq, before it was intercepted on its way to Port Sudan, the IDF said. At least one analyst suggested that Egypt may have assisted the IDF operation with intelligence.
The IDF has stopped–or, in some cases, attacked and destroyed–numerous weapons shipments throughout the region in recent years, from convoys carrying Iranian shipments in the Sudan, to stockpiles of Russian missiles waiting for deployment in Syria. The most significant seizure was the Karine A in 2002, because it had been directly paid for by then-Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, causing the U.S. to lose trust in him.
The timing of the Klos C seizure coincided with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the U.S., in the midst of open debates between the two governments about negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, and also the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The Klos C raid, which the IDF is calling “Operation Full Disclosure,” reveals that Iran is still exporting war and terror, and that Palestinians remain committed to destroying Israel.
One of the more interesting details of the Klos C shipment is that the weapons were reportedly hidden among commercial cargo, including bags of cement. Israel has maintained a controversial quarantine of shipping to Hamas-controlled Gaza precisely because it fears that terror groups will disguise weapons and weapons-making material as ordinary cargo. It allows some goods and humanitarian aid to reach Gaza by land, after inspection.
While news of the IDF’s successful raid has been overshadowed by rapid developments in the Ukraine crisis, it is a reminder that Iran is committed to escalating regional conflict even as it negotiates with the rest. Its new “moderate” president, Hassan Rouhani, has not lessened Iran’s support for terror, nor has he improved his country’s domestic human rights situation. “This is the real Iran,” Netanyahu said in a YouTube statement.
Another potentially significant aspect of the raid is that the ship and its cargo passed through Iraq. Iran has been attempting to increasing its influence in Iraq since the Saddam Hussein was ousted by coalition forces, and especially since the last U.S. troops left Iraq in December 2011. The emergence of Iraq as a conduit for Iranian weapons could have a major, and detrimental, effect on security for both the U.S. and for Israel.
In a press statement, IDF Spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said: “The IDF will continue to operate against the Iranian attempts to arm regional terrorist organizations, who intend to continuously ignite our borders. We will continue to employ all the necessary means in order to prevent the armament of terrorist organizations and will combat the Iranian smuggling attempts that threaten the security and sovereignty of the State of Israel.”