More than 300 tons of weaponry, including thousands of Katyusha and other rockets, thousands of mortar shells, and hundreds of thousands of Kalashnikov bullets. That was the haul from the ship Francop, which the Israeli navy intercepted off Cyprus early Wednesday morning and brought to the port of Ashdod in Israel.
About ten days ago, the arms cache took off from Bandar Abbas port in Iran on an IRISL (Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines) ship. At the Egyptian port of Damietta, it was transferred to the Francop, an Antiguan flagged German vessel. The containers of weapons were hidden behind piles of sacks filled with polyethylene. The Francop crew appears to have had no knowledge of the cache, and Israel has already released the ship and its crew and put the weaponry in storage.
It was the largest such capture in Israel’s history, ten times larger than the cache on the Karine A, the ship Israel intercepted in 2002 that was bringing arms from Iran to Gaza (then part, with the West Bank, of a unified, Yasser Arafat-ruled Palestinian Authority). The Francop’s destination was a different one: the port of Lattakia in Syria. From there, the cache was to be smuggled by land to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. The Israeli army says the weapons supply would have been enough to extend a future Israel-Hezbollah war by about a month.
So far the world — whether in news media or in official statements — hasn’t reacted much. Undoubtedly, a good deal else has been going on such as the U.S. elections, the shooting at Fort Hood in Texas, and the World Series. And closer to home, as far as Israel is concerned, there has been the UN General Assembly’s endorsement of the Goldstone report, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s announcement that he won’t run for re-election, the anti-regime demonstrations in Iran, and Iran’s apparent testing of an advanced nuclear warhead.
But Israel badly wants the Francop to take its place beside the big stories. In a world where the Goldstone report keeps dragging Israel through the mud for defending itself against Iranian-backed terror in Gaza, this incident dramatically underlines what Israel is up against and what Iran and its allies are up to.
On Thursday, the Israeli Foreign Ministry brought foreign ambassadors in Israel to view the haul. The Foreign Ministry also highlighted that the arms shipment is a violation of two UN Security Council resolutions — 1747, which prohibits Iran from exporting weapons and ammunition, and 1701, which prohibits transferring further armaments to Hezbollah. The Foreign Ministry also told Israel’s envoys abroad to highlight the issue to their host countries and urge that they cease all dealings with IRISL.