Israel's capture of the Karine A weapons ship in January 2002 was an impressive military and intelligence feat, but the real story was hidden in the discussions and machinations that preceded the operation. This was during the Second Intifada, and the debate was whether then-Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat was fanning the flames of violence or was simply incapable of putting out the flames which were raging uncontrollably on the ground. The Palestinian leader still enjoyed a certain status in the international community and had total freedom of movement. Then, one day, Arafat went on one of his typical trips abroad.
In one of his stops, Arafat secretly met with a group of bearded, clandestine men. These were operatives with the Al-Quds Force, the paramilitary arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Armed with a shopping list of exactly the kind of military hardware he needed in order to wage war with Israel, the chairman had appealed to Iran for emergency assistance. The list included massive quantities (two tons' worth) of C4 explosives, the type of weapon that would multiply the lethal effectiveness of any suicide bomber. Arafat also wanted mortars, mines, and Katyusha rockets.
The Iranians agreed to deliver the goods, but they had demands of their own. They wanted Arafat to allow the Revolutionary Guards a foothold in the Palestinian towns and cities of the West Bank and Gaza. To that point, the Iranians had no way of exerting their influence in the territories, and Iranian terrorist operatives could not penetrate the defensive wall around which Israel wrapped itself. Arafat's blessing was supposed to usher in a strategic change in the balance of terror and deterrence between Israel and Iran.
After the capture of Karine A, the IDF's intelligence attaché in Washington, Col. Shlomo Mofaz, gave his American counterparts the incriminating evidence against Arafat. In Washington, officials still didn't get it. Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, the head of the Military Intelligence research division, was also dispatched to Washington with more evidence. The Americans still weren't convinced.
Ariel Sharon, who was prime minister at the time, didn't give up. He summoned the IDF chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz, and told him: "Shaul, get into uniform, go to Washington, Condoleezza Rice will greet you. Leave the material with her. All of the material." Mofaz did as he was told.
Finally, it dawned on the Americans. Usually, it takes a while to see the light, but once it does, nobody should envy the person who was most affected by it. That person was Arafat. The incriminating evidence that was shown to the Americans compelled General Anthony Zinni to label Arafat "the head of the cosa nostra" and his boss, President George W. Bush, to declare that Arafat's time as leader of the Palestinian national movement had come to a close and that the Palestinians needed to find themselves a new leader. Though it took time, eventually they did.
Are the Iranians once again working on a "deal" with terrorist operatives in our own backyard? It is widely believed that there was indeed such a deal. It is still unclear as to who was supposed to receive this shipment of armaments. Was it Islamic Jihad (which has close ties to Tehran)? Or was it Hamas? Perhaps it was the terrorist organizations operating in the Sinai Peninsula.
What is clear is that these missiles would have altered the balance of terror between Israel and the terrorist organizations. It would've allowed them to circumvent the Iron Dome anti-missile interception system while hitting Israel in its soft underbelly – its populated urban centers – with more precision and firepower.
These kinds of missiles were intended for use on "judgment day." Just north of the Israeli border with Lebanon, Iran has established a massive array of missile launchers that are designed to open up the gates of hell on Israeli cities in the event that the government gives the green light for an attack on the Islamic Republic's nuclear installations. Now Iran wants a similar array of missile launchers, this time on Israel's southern border.
The Revolutionary Guards and its Al-Quds Force devoted many long months and tens of millions of dollars to the operation. The logistics of it were quite complicated. It transcended boundaries and international waters. It entailed the cooperation of dozens of foreign entities. It demanded great patience and perseverance.
The Egyptian military's ongoing campaign to root out Islamist terror groups in the Sinai Peninsula greatly complicates Iranian aims to deliver the missiles to their intended destination. That explains the need to be patient. The missiles need to be dismantled, taken apart, packaged, and shipped one by one, part by part, quietly, through tunnels, under the radar or through boats.
This won't be the case this time around, but there will be other attempts. "Not a day goes by in which the Iranians aren't trying to smuggle arms into our area," a senior intelligence source told me. "They wake up every morning with this goal in mind."
There's one question that still needs to be answered: Did the Iranian civilian leadership – namely the new president, Hassan Rouhani – know of this operation? If so, that means that the winds of moderation and reconciliation blowing from Tehran are artificial and hollow. If not, it means that Iran is in the midst of a complicated internal struggle between the conservative forces ruling the country – namely the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his Revolutionary Guards – and those who think there needs to be a change in direction.
"Something dramatic is taking place in Iran," a military source said. The IDF high command is closely monitoring the situation there. The thing is it's still not entirely clear what is taking place there and how dramatic it really is.
The capture of the Klos-C will provide a renewed jolt of energy into Israel's public relations campaign, led, of course, by its PR maestro, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has had Iran in his sights his whole career. On this issue, we are a bit off the mark. Imagine if the weapons ship was captured a day earlier, and Bibi could've brought the entire house down at AIPAC by breaking the dramatic news to the 14,000 delegates on hand. The Americans, however, are more preoccupied with Ukraine. Another seized Iranian arms ship won't impress them too much.
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