In the space of just a few days, both Egypt and Cyprus have stopped two Iranian ships from arriving at their Syrian and Gaza Strip destinations…. and both loaded with weapons bound for Hamas and/or Hezbollah.
– Cypriot authorities have stopped an Iranian ship loaded with weapons and traveling towards Syria. A diplomatic source for the European Union says that Cyprus acted on instructions from the United States and Israel.
USS San Antonio (LPD 17) underway – photo by Alec Rawls
Check out one beauty of a photo of her transiting the Suez Canal here!
The incident took place yesterday. The ship, which was Iranian but flying the Cypriot flag, was ordered to dock at Limassol for inspection. On board, Cypriot authorities found a load of weapons, including heavy artillery, rockets, and documents. According to Jerusalem, the weapons were being sent to Hezbollah in Lebanon or to Hamas, in the Gaza Strip.
The ship was originally intercepted over a week earlier, searched and the weapons cargo discovered by the USS San Antonio – an amphibious transport dock ship assigned to track Iranian weapon shipments to the Gaza strip a few days earlier. However, according to Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, the US could not, under UN regs, legally hold the Iranian ship, flying Cypriot colors. How frustrating…
“The United States did as much as we could do legally,” Mullen told a briefing on Jan. 27.
“There are authorities, limitations in complying with this particular UN resolution, and we basically went right up to the edge of that and we couldn’t do anything else. And we think those weapons are headed to Syria, which is obviously not a great outcome …shipping weapons to Syria that we think, quite frankly, are going to end up in Gaza.”
Clyde at the Patriot Room has an interesting sequence of events apparently related to this same ship, starting Jan 26th… going thru it’s multiple mid-sea name changes. Worthy of a read. But stashed in the middle was a cargo description.
“The cargo consists of 50 Fajr rockets whose range is 50-75 km, scores of heavy Grad rockets, new, improved launchers whose angle of fire can be precisely adjusted, tons of high-quality explosives, submachine guns, rifles and pistols and armor-piercing missiles and shells (of types used successfully by Hizballah against Israeli tanks in 2006).
“The shipment, the largest Tehran has ever consigned to the Palestinian Hamas in Gaza, includes also a large number of anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines, equipment for assembling roadside bombs and advanced communications and night vision gear.”
Meanwhile, Obama has dispatched a US Congressional delegation to Damascus… all who evidently arrived, beating the thwarted weapons shipment. My, would that be embarrassing to have all those Congress types chatting up Assad while Iranian weapons were being unloaded at the Syrian docks?
Syria’s relations with the U.S. struggled under President Bush, who frequently accused Damascus of allowing people and weapons across their border into Iraq to fight American troops.
[Mata Musing: doesn’t look like Dubya was too far off the mark, eh?]
However, since the American change of power, Assad has shown cautious optimism, telling Al-Manar television (operated by the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militant group) that a “serious” joint dialogue has already been initiated.
“We have positive indications, but we learned to be careful. As long as there are no tangible results, we have to assume that things have not changed,” he said.
In light of the blocked shipment, it becomes even more interesting that Syria proposes that Hamas *should* be engaged (diplomatically), but that it will require Syria’s aid in doing so.
Uh… considering they were expecting literally a boat load of ammo, just what kind of “aid” does Syria have in mind??
On other fronts, Egyptian authorities blocked yet another Iranian ship transporting weapons to Hamas at the Suez Canal entrance on Jan 28th. It was headed for the Gaza Strip.
Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit criticized Hamas, Iran, and Hezbollah of working to fostering the clashes in Gaza in order to provoke conflict all over the Middle East. According to the minister, the situation of tension in the area is to the advantage of Iran, “which is trying to use its cards to escape Western pressure . . . on the nuclear file.”
“This is a big test for the Egyptians,” a senior Israeli defence official told The Jerusalem Post. “So far the Egyptians have prevented the ship from crossing the Suez and we hope it will stay that way.”
Israeli defence officials told the paper Iran was trying to supply Hamas with new Grad-model Katyusha rockets and to replace high-grade explosives that were exhausted or destroyed by the Israeli Defence Force during this month’s war in Gaza.
The IDF is concerned Iran will supply Hamas with long-range Fajr missiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv.~~~
The French have also dispatched a frigate to the Mediterranean to participate in the clampdown on the Gaza Strip and to prevent weapons shipments from reaching Hamas, the Post said.
Israeli defence officials told the paper that since the conclusion of Operation Cast Lead, large quantities of explosives, machine guns and other weaponry had arrived in the Sinai peninsula, but the Egyptians were taking measures to prevent them from being smuggled into Gaza.
With all his fab Congressional types hanging out in Syria, Obama’s sent his new Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, off on an eight day walkabout of the Middle East, starting in Cairo.
Appearing before the cameras in the Cabinet Room at the White House, Obama acknowledged that his envoy has “a very tough job.”
Still, he said, Mitchell will “engage vigorously and consistently in order for us to achieve genuine progress. And when I say progress, not just photo ops, but progress that is concretely felt by people on the ground.”
“Understand that Senator Mitchell is going to be fully empowered by me and fully empowered by Secretary Clinton. So when he speaks, he will be speaking for us,” the president added.
State Department officials said Mitchell’s mission has three goals.
He will listen to regional leaders’ views on an eventual Israeli-Palestinian settlement. But negotiations begun by former President George W. Bush are in limbo until Israeli elections two weeks from now, and polls show former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposes compromise, as the front-runner.
More immediately, Mitchell will try to stabilize an unofficial cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip following a month of fighting that left hundreds of Palestinians dead and billions of dollars in damage.~~~
Mitchell will not meet representatives of Hamas, which the United States considers a terrorist group, nor, at least on this trip, will he travel to Syria, said State Department spokesman Robert Wood.
It’s going to be difficult to stabilize a Hamas-Israel ceasefire when one of the parties is an unrepentent terrorist group (that would be Hamas, for you visiting anti-Israel types…). Mitchell’s trip itinerary consists of Egypt, Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and possibly Turkey… but no plans to visit Gaza.
In the meantime, the Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former Iranian president now serving as the head of two important religious councils, issued warnings to Obama:
We are still waiting for the new U.S. administration to declare its wise stand, since otherwise they would waste another few years of our time by repeating Bush’s words regarding the need for Iran to halt its nuclear program, threatening us, or offering impractical, unclear promises,” said Rafsanjani, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
He said that if Obama improves relations with the Islamic Republic, the U.S. could count on “Iran’s cooperation” in resolving “regional problems.”
Rafsanjani spoke two days after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran would be open to talks with America provided the U.S. changes its Middle East policies.
Sounds like business as usual to me… somehow, I’m not “feeling the love” now that the US has a new President. But hey… don’t you feel better? We have Congress members in Syria, and Mitchell *almost* everywhere else.
The usual suspects are up to their old tricks… speaking out their proverbial rear ends about a new era of negotiations – *if* the US caves in to the same old demands.
Meanwhile, Iran postures, and the back to back boatloads of weapons from Iran still attempt to make their way to Damascus and Gaza Strip….
Hopefully all those “talking diplomats” will lift up their heads from over their tea conferences every once in awhile to check what’s going on under their noses out at the docks, eh?