Israeli naval commandos stopped an arms shipment November 3 on its way from Iran to the Lebanese terror group Hizballah by way of Syria. The weapons were being transported by a cargo ship flying the Antiguan flag. Buried amidst the vessel's "civilian" cargo were 36 shipping containers carrying 500 tons of weaponry for Hizballah.
The cache seized from the cargo ship MV Francop included approximately 3,000 Katyusha rockets, 3,000 recoilless gun shells, 9,000 mortar bombs, 20,000 grenades, and more than half a million rounds of small-arms ammunition.
The U.S. says the ship's seizure proves Iran is violating a 2007 arms embargo enacted in the aftermath of the 2006 Israel-Hizballah war.
According to Israel's deputy Navy chief, Brig. Gen. Rani Ben-Yehuda, the quantity of arms seized would have been enough to supply Hizballah for a month or more of fighting against Israel. "The quantity of arms seized on the weapons ship Francop is 10 times or even more than the quantity of weapons on the Karine-A ship," Ben-Yehuda said.
The Karine-A was a ship loaded with 50 tons of advanced weaponry from Iran bound for the Palestinian Authority in Gaza. It was captured in the Red Sea by the Israeli Navy and Air Force on January 3, 2002.
Aboard the MV Francop last week, rockets were packed into cases marked "Parts of Bulldozer" and "Construction Equipment." The Israelis found containers stuffed with polyethylene sacks to camouflage munitions. Farsi and English markings on the sacks revealed that the polyethylene was produced by Iran's National Petrochemical Company.
"Some of the weapons were high-quality, chiefly 60mm, 81mm and 120mm mortar shells produced between 2007 and 2009," reported Israel's Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC). "The large quantity of rockets (about 2,800) equaled about 70% of those fired during the second Lebanon war (July 2006), when Hezbollah fired approximately 4,000 rockets of various types into Israeli territory, most of them 122mm rockets similar to those found on board the ship."
In addition to the Karine-A, the ITIC lists some other recent examples of publicly exposed Iranian efforts to smuggle weapons to terrorist groups and/or state sponsors of terrorism, which include:
*In December 2003 and January 2004, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards flew weapons to Hizballah through Syria. Humanitarian assistance was flown into southern Iran for earthquake victims. The Iranian government used the return flights to Damascus to smuggle arms to Hizballah.
*In May 2007, an Iranian train carrying rocket launchers and ammunition, mortar shells and light arms was intercepted in Turkey. The weapons were intended for Hizballah.
*In January 2009, a weapons shipment was captured in Cyprus on a Cypriot ship that had been leased by an Iranian shipping company. The vessel contained anti-tank weapons, artillery, and materials for manufacturing rockets.
*Also in January 2009, Israeli planes attacked a convoy of 20 trucks in Sudan; the trucks were loaded with weapons headed for Gaza. The weapons included long-range Fajr missiles that could reach Tel Aviv from Gaza.
*In October 2009 an Indian ship which sailed from Iran flying a German flag was supposed to unload eight containers in Egypt. Following a warning from German authorities, the vessel diverted to Malta, where it was discovered to be carrying bullets and materials to manufacture weapons – apparently linked to Syria.