IDF Navy fighters intercepted the cargo vessel "Victoria" loaded with various weaponry. The vessel, flying under a Liberian flag, was intercepted some 200 miles west of Israel's coast. This incident was part of the Navy's routine activity to maintain security and prevent arms smuggling, in light of IDF security assessments. The force was met with no resistance from the crew on-board.
The vessel was brought by the Israeli Navy to the Ashdod port for further searches and detailed inspection of the cargo.
The vessel was on its way from the Port of Mersin in Turkey to Alexandria in Egypt.
According to assessments, the various weaponry on-board the vessel was intended for the use of terror organizations operating in the Gaza Strip.
The IDF would like to note that Turkey is not tied to the incident in any way.
The operation was approved as necessary in accordance with government directives in light of the Chief of the General Staff's recommendations. Earlier this morning, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz updated the Minister of Defense, Mr. Ehud Barak, about the findings on-board the vessel.
The IDF and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs alerted about the interception of the "Victoria" to the German authorities, 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 operation was under the command of the IDF Navy Commander, Maj. Gen. Eliezer Marom, and the interception was under the command of the Navy Special Forces Commander. The vessel's crew and content will be transferred to an Israeli port for questioning and further inspection.
The IDF will continue its intelligence and operational activities in order to maintain Israel's security interests and prevent arms smuggling that will fuel the terror infrastructure in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.
As many as 50 tons of weapons discovered
The Victoria carried as much as 50 tons of weapons, an amount similar to that of the Karin A, a ship caught by the IDF sailing to the Palestinian Authority in 2002. According to the Israeli Navy, this is only a preliminary estimate and weaponry found on the ship will be checked only after the Victoria docks at the Ashdod port. As mentioned, along with the strategic weapons found on the ship, a large amount of 60 and 120 mm mortar shells were found as well.
Anti-ship missiles and guidebooks in Persian found on Victoria
According to Brig. Gen. Ben Yehuda, these types of missiles are dangerous not just to Navy ships but also to civilian vessels usually arriving at the Ashdod Harbor. "Because the missiles can be programmed to work automatically, they pose a threat to any additional targets within their range. They are easier to control and mobilize than previous missiles," he explained.
According to IDF intelligence gathering, Hamas does not currently carry missiles of this type in the Gaza Strip. That said, The Hizbullah terrorist organization in Lebanon does have similar capabilities.
The Navy Chief added that guidebooks in Farsi were found on the ship along with other symbols of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, another indication that the Victoria was an Iranian attempt to shift the order of power in the Middle East.
IDF presents Iranian weaponry on Victoria
The IDF presented the Iraninan weaponry found on Victoria on Wednesday (March 16), after the ship docked in Ashdod the previous evening. In three large cargo containers, six ready-to-be-launched C-704 ani-ship missiles were found, aong with two launchers, two exterior launchers and two launch pads.
Additionally, 230 mortar shells sized 60 to 120-mm with a range of 10 kilometers were found, 2,260 mortar shells of the same size but with a range of 2.5 kilometers and as many as 74,889 bullets for AK-47 rifles. The weaponry was concealed behind sacs of lentils and cotton, spread throughout 36 containters overall.
"The interception of this weapons-carrying ship gives an answer to all those who were dubious, attacked and criticized Israel about intercepting ships attempting to reach the Gaza Strip," stressed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "To all those who have asked, attacked and criticized Israel for stopping and searching ships destined for Gaza, well here is the clearest possible answer, here, today in Ashdod, why it is our duty, not just our right, to stop and disarm such ships. They passed through Syria and were en route to terrorists in the Gaza Strip."
- PM Netanyahu's remarks at display of weaponry from the Victoria
* * *Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "Very early this morning, I approved the Navy's interception of the Victoria. We had a solid basis that onboard the ship was weaponry destined for use against Israel. Considerable weaponry - which was destined for terrorist forces in the heart of Gaza - was found onboard the vessel. The operation was carried out at sea in accordance with all international rules and our right under international law to stop weapons smuggling directed against our citizens.
The weaponry originated in Iran, which is continuing to try and arm terrorist forces that operate against the State of Israel. It is our right and our duty to do our utmost to stop this supply effort. We can say for certain is that the weaponry originated in Iran, which has a relay station in Syria. This is the main axis that also supplies terrorist forces in Lebanon, Hizbullah, and terrorist forces in Gaza."
* * *Defense Minister Ehud Barak: "Today, the IDF and its fighters thwarted the smuggling of weaponry - which was due to have been used against the residents of Israel - to the Gaza Strip. The goal of the smuggling was to harm the security of Israel. The IDF acted in weaponry to Gaza shows that radical elements are continuing in their attempts to attack Israel and undermine regional stability."order to defend the security of the country. The attempt to smuggle