|Victoria Raid 311.(Photo by: IDF)|
Analysis: Israel’s shadow war against Iran
By YAAKOV KATZ
The seizure of the 'Victoria' cargo ship is just another chapter in the larger covert war that Israel is waging against Iran.
Israel waged war against Iran on Tuesday. No Iranians were present and
not a single shot was fired, but make no mistake – the seizure of the Victoria
cargo ship is part of Israel’s battle against Iran, one that is fought in the
shadows and sometimes in the most unlikely places.
When the commandos
from the navy’s Flotilla 13 approached the ship under cover of darkness late
Monday night, they still did not know what to expect. Only as they made their
final approach toward the ship, some 320 km. west of Israel, did Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu give his final approval to board the vessel.
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cases, the risk is huge, and for this reason the Foreign Ministry was on standby
with officials ready to contact Germany and Liberia. A German company owns the
ship, and it was flying a Liberian flag.
After contacting the captain of
the ship by radio, the commandos climbed aboard and, encountering no resistance,
began a brief search of the cargo. They went to the “suspicious” containers, the
ones that were loaded at the Syrian port of Latakia and were slated to be
unloaded at the Egyptian port of Alexandria, according to the cargo
The commandos found the containers fitted with heavy locks,
unusual for shipments of lentils and cotton. Behind a row of sacks, they found
what they were looking for: crates of mortar shells, and then the real prize –
the C-704 anti-ship missiles.
The seizure of the Victoria was not
impressive for the quantity of arms found – the Francop cargo ship captured by
Israel in late 2009 was carrying 10 times more weaponry – but for the
The C-704 is an anti-ship missile made in China and used by
Iran, which calls it the Nasr. Like surface-to-air missiles, the C-704 is the
type of weapon that Israel fears could shift the balance of power in the region
and undermine its operational freedom.
But while the discovery is
impressive and was the result of major intelligence and operational efforts, it
is just another chapter in the larger covert war that Israel is waging against
Iran and its terror proxies throughout the Middle East, and joins a long list of
similar special operations that have taken place in recent years.
battle against Iranian arms shipments to Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas is extremely
complicated and involves unprecedented coordination between Israel and its
allies, primarily the United States.
Israel boards dozens of ships
annually, and hundreds more are questioned by radio at sea. In the case of the
Victoria, Israel had intelligence that the ship might be carrying weaponry, but
there is never certainty until the ship is boarded and the weapons are found.
One senior official described the mood in the navy command center as being so
tense that a knife could have cut through the air.
For Iran and Hamas,
the seizure of the Victoria is a major blow. But it will not stop Iran from
trying other ways to get advanced weaponry to its proxies, such as Hamas and
Hezbollah. In many cases, Iran has succeeded.
In 2009, during Operation
Cast Lead, Hamas did not have rockets that could hit Tel Aviv. Today it
The route that the Victoria took was of particular interest for the
navy. In the past, a number of ships were tracked as they sailed through the Red
Sea and unloaded weaponry in Sudan or Eritrea, which made its way by land up to
the Egyptian-Gaza border. In this case, the ship was loaded in Syria, then
sailed north to Turkey and then back south again to Egypt.
This route led
intelligence officials in Israel to believe that the stopover at the Turkish
port of Mersin was a ploy to draw attention away from the ship.
decision to transfer the weaponry directly to Egypt could mean that Iran is
encountering difficulty in the traditional land route through Egypt. This could
have to do with Israeli efforts to stop the shipments, but the Egyptians are
also believed to be making a greater effort to stop arms convoys from crossing
into the country from its southern border with Sudan. A few days ago, the
Egyptian military attacked such a convoy with artillery shells, preventing it
from entering the country.