Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday (10. 03. 2014) displayed the seized rockets allegedly bound for Gaza from Iran. He used the opportunity to condemn talks over Iran's nuclear weapons program.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turned the navy's recent interception of rockets on its head in Eilat port on Monday (10. 03. 2014), using it as ammunition for his argument against Iran's nuclear program.
He proudly toured the port on the Red Sea in the south of Israel, delivering a statement surrounded by a display of missiles on metal stands, positioned neatly in front of a navy frigate and other Israeli vessels involved in the interception of the weapons.
The Israel Defense Force said it found 40 M-302 rockets, 181mm and 120mm mortar shells, and approximately 400,000 7.62-caliber rounds aboard the Panama-flagged Klos-C, intercepted in the Red Sea off the coast of Sudan. The IDF added that the Klos-C arrived in Eilat on Sunday, but did not say where the ship was during the announcement - it was nowhere in sight.
The raid was announced last week. Soon afterwards, the Israelis released a professionally made video illustrating the 8,000-kilometer route the weapons were intended to take from Syria to Iran and Iraq, before heading toward Sudan and then overland to Gaza. Other professional video clips showed naval officers discovering the rockets offshore and boarding the Klos-C.
'Bound for Gaza'
Israel alleged that the ship was from Iran and heading to Gaza with rockets from Syria and claimed the weapons would have changed the balance of power between Israel and the Gaza Strip, as the rockets would have been capable of hitting Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa.
Reuven Ben-Shalom, who served for 25 years as an IDF helicopter pilot, was involved in a similar interception of weapons 12 years ago. "It was very similar to this, although back then we had less time - a few weeks - here I am guessing it took many months," he said, before adding that this interception "represented a step-up" and was "of a different caliber."
"If this had reached Gaza it would have been devastating," he told DW. "When I look out at this [the weapons], I ask would it have defeated Israel? Of course not, but just think how much damage it would have caused."
"I feel for the people of Gaza," he added. "Just think about the implications for the people of Gaza if Israeli intelligence were to miss this shipment and then locate it in a warehouse in downtown Gaza - what would Israel do? Probably bomb it - which would be devastating for them," said Ben-Shalom.
The government organized a special flight for media to make the trip to Eilat, which would otherwise entail a four-hour drive from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem through winding desert roads.
Netanyahu was greeted by a military officer who spoke over a loud speaker, while showing the prime minister shipping documents that had allegedly been falsified.
Netanyahu plucked one of the munitions from a box, after inspecting some sacks of cement apparently used to disguise weapons on the Klos-C. Cement bags were labeled in English - "Made in I.R Iran" - and showed cargo seals believed to have been inspected by Iranian custom officials before they were loaded onto the vessel.
"The weapons on these ships were destined for terrorists in Gaza who are committed to Israel's destruction, the goal was to have these weapons rain down on the heads of Israel's citizens," Netanyahu said. "The ship was organized by Iran, dispatched by Iran, financed by Iran. The missiles were loaded by Iran in Iran."
The prime minister's statement in Eilat was not followed by any questions from media and is part of a wider five-day public relations campaign to persuade world leaders to toughen their position in nuclear talks with Iran.
Netanyahu condemned Western leaders for "smilingly shaking hands" with Iranian leaders as the haul of weapons was being offloaded. He was referring specifically to the arrival of the European Union delegation led by Catherine Ashton in Iran on Sunday. They held a joint press conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javed Zarif.
Netanyahu called on the international community to see the connection between the weapons intercepted by Israel and Iran's nuclear program. "They would like to continue to build up the illusion that Iran has changed course, but the facts we see on this pier prove the exact opposite," he told media in Eilat.
Talking to Iran
Iran and six world powers struck a deal at the end of November last year - Tehran would curb sensitive nuclear activities for six months in return for limited relief from sanctions. The two sides are now set to flesh out a long-term agreement on the scope of Iran's nuclear program by the end of the year.
Netanyahu warned that while the shipment seized on board the Klos-C contained long-range missiles, future shipments could contain nuclear materials, which he said Iran could send to any port in the world. "There is a desire of many in the international community to bury their heads in the sand," he said. "They conveniently ignore Iran's continued criminal aggression and the mass killings in Syria."
Iran has repeatedly rejected allegations that it is seeking nuclear weapons capability. Israel is widely believed to have the Middle East's sole nuclear arsenal and says a nuclear-armed Iran poses a threat to its existence.