Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu approved Wednesday’s raid of a ship carrying illicit Iranian arms to the Gaza Strip before he left for the US Sunday morning, and discussed the matter with US President Barack Obama at their meeting the next day.
Government officials confirmed that the security cabinet held several meetings on the matter over the last several weeks. According to one official, Netanyahu did not know exactly when the interception of the vessel would take place, but knew it was possible that it would take place when he was in the US.
The decision to go ahead with Netanyahu’s visit to the US was made both because of the importance of the meeting with Obama, and because of concern that canceling such a high-profile trip to the US would arouse a great deal of suspicion.
Netanyahu was in close contact throughout the night, through his military secretary Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir and National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen, with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz. After the IDF successfully intercepted the ship, he decided to carry on with the rest of his visit to the US as scheduled.
“The Israeli Navy intercepted on the high seas a ship organized by Iran in a clandestine way to ship deadly missiles to the terrorist groups in Gaza,” Netanyahu told reporters in Los Angeles. “Iran has been exposed for what it is. It smiles in the Geneva talks about its own nuclear ambitions, gives soothing words, and as they’re doing that, they’re shipping these deadly weapons to the world’s worst terrorists.”
Netanyahu said that the goal in intercepting the ship was twofold: first, to prevent the Iranian- supplied missiles from reaching the terrorist organizations in Gaza and endangering Israeli citizens; second, “to reveal the true face of Iran.”
“I think this illustrates an important principle I repeat time after time, including in my meetings in the US with President Obama and in public appearances: Israel has the right and obligation to defend itself by itself against all threats. And I repeat, everywhere. That is how we have acted in the past, and how we will act in the future,” he said.
The second lesson, he said, “is that a nation like Iran, which is clearly a terrorist state, which sends the most murderous weapons to Syria, to Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist organizations – that state cannot have the ability to manufacture nuclear arms.”
With the experience of the botched interception of the Mavi Marmara in 2010 clearly on the mind of those involved in preparing Wednesday’s operation, Israel – according to government sources – was careful to plan the interception so that it took place in international waters, and also to give advanced warning to Turkey, Panama and the Marshall Islands, that it was going to board the ship.
“We followed international law to the letter,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said at an accountants conference in Tel Aviv. “The ship traveled under a Panamanian flag, the company was listed in Marshall Islands, the captain was Turkish and the crew was from various different countries.”
Government sources said that the communications with the Turks over the incident went smoothly.
Meanwhile, Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor issued a formal complaint to the UN Security Council over the incident.
According to a Foreign Ministry statement, Iran “repeatedly violates Security Council resolutions 1747 and 1929, which forbid it to export any kind of military material.” These two resolutions clamped sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear program.
Furthermore, by smuggling weapons to the Gaza Strip, Iran is in violation of Security Council resolutions 1373 and 1860, the statement read.
Security Council resolution 1373 is a counterterrorism resolution adopted two weeks after the 9/11 attacks and aimed at hindering terrorist organizations, and 1860 was adopted during Operation Cast Lead in 2009 and called for an immediate cease-fire.
“Iran continues to endanger international navigation routes and brazenly violates a number of Security Council resolutions with the aim of destabilizing the region and disseminating terror and war,” the Foreign Ministry said. “Smuggling is carried out by the ‘Quds Force,’ which is part of the Revolutionary Guards. This is a state branch operating under the authority and clearance of the Iranian government, led by [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani.”
In submitting the protest, Prosor contravened the directives of the Foreign Ministry’s workers’ committee, which directed him not to file the complaint because of partial work stoppages that the workers relaunched on Tuesday for better salaries and working conditions. The stoppages, aimed at crippling the day-to-day working of the ministry, were declared after mediation efforts failed to end a labor dispute stretching back to 2012.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) commended the IDF on the operation.
“There should be no compromises when facing terror. We must fight it determinedly on any site. The weaponry on the ship was meant to harm the citizens of this country regardless of opinion and political party,” he said.
Herzog added that “at the same time as military activity, it is necessary to continue strengthening moderate forces in the region and have a dialogue and cooperation for regional peace and security.”
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.