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.
Also on Thursday Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a press briefing:
The navy captured a ship that was carrying a vast quantity of ordnance. … The main component of this war materiel was rockets whose sole objective was to attack and kill as many civilians — women, children and the elderly — as possible.
This is a war crime. This is a war crime that the UN General Assembly … should investigate, discuss and condemn. This is a war crime that should prompt the UN Security Council to convene in special session, especially since it was in gross violation of UN Security Council resolutions. This is a war crime which we know the Iranian regime intends to repeat, further arming Hezbollah, which has already fired thousands of missiles at our communities.
This is what the international community should concentrate on at all times but especially today. But instead, they have chosen to assemble and condemn the IDF and the State of Israel, and to try and undermine our legitimate right to defend ourselves. …
I think that the time has come for the international community, at least its more responsible countries, to recognize the truth and not promote a lie.
In trying to make “the ship” a lever to shift world attention from Israel’s alleged sins in Gaza to the actual ongoing treachery and belligerency of Iran, Israel faces an uphill battle. It is true that Israel has mustered some sympathy from democracies on the Goldstone report. In Thursday’s General Assembly ballot on the resolution endorsing the report, Israel was joined by the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, and some Eastern European countries in voting against it. Most of the EU countries abstained.
But when it comes to Iran itself, the West continues to dither. Iran’s rejection of the deal to have its uranium enriched abroad, after stringing the U.S. and its allies along for another few weeks while its centrifuges keep spinning, has brought little but bewildered silence. Regarding the courageous anti-regime agitation within Iran, President Obama has already announced that “we do not intervene in Iran’s internal affairs.” There is still no sign of sufficient Western will and unity to organize truly effective sanctions against the mullahcracy.
Israel still hopes, and is striving hard, to make clear what Iran’s conversion from a terror-exporting power to a nuclear-armed, terror-exporting power would mean, and to muster Western resolve to do something about it. The Francop episode glaringly reveals Iran’s strategy of surrounding Israel with deadly ordinance in hostile hands while it exports subversion throughout the Middle East and in Africa and South America.
It is not a problem Israel wants to deal with by itself. It may yet have to.