The Victoria cargo ship, which was carrying weaponry from Iran to Hamas in the Gaza Strip, was suspected of carrying anti-ship missiles that would have impaired the Israel Navy's freedom of operations in the Mediterranean Sea, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Tuesday.

According to Barak, one of the reasons that the Navy seized the ship early Tuesday morning was out of concern that if the cargo arrived in Gaza, Israel would have difficulty operating along the Gaza coast.

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"We suspected that it was carrying the beginning of a system that could impair our operational freedom along the Gaza coast," Barak told reporters.

During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Hezbollah fired a Chinese missile called C-802 supplied by Iran at the INS Hanit, killing four Israeli soldiers and severely damaging the advanced missile ship.



Earlier Tuesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday said that he gave the order on Monday night to board and take over the freight ship based on firm intelligence information that was it was carrying arms from Iran to Gaza.

During a tour of the security fence being constructed on the border with Egypt, he said the ship had stopped over in Syria and Israel had the "obligation and right to stop ships smuggling arms."

Netanyahu said that more information about the ship and what it was carrying would be released tomorrow.

"The seizure was made at sea according to international laws. We updated all the relevant countries and the international community," he added.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak congratulated Israeli Navy's Flotilla 13 commandos on the successful operation during which they took control of the ship with dozens of tons of weaponry from Iran headed for Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Barak closely followed the Victoria ship's movements in recent days with other IDF commanders.

Barak said Tuesday that "the IDF and navy fighters prevented the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip which were intended to be used against the residents of Israel."

"The purpose of smuggling [these weapons] was to harm the security of Israel and the IDF fighters acted to protect national security," the defense minister said.

"The attempt to smuggle weapons into Gaza shows that there are radical forces who continue to try and harm Israel and undermine stability in the region," he continued.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima) said Tuesday that "there are those who are exploiting the unrest in the world in order to transfer weapons to terrorist organizations who try to harm us."

There is a campaign to delegitimize Israel. The same people who are responsible for transferring weapons to the area are also responsible for sending the killers to Itamar," Livni added.


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