Gantz recruiting nations to combat Iran smuggling

Israel asks US, EU to check vessels in Red Sea, Mediterranean for amrs smuggling to Hamas in Gaza.

Dempsey and Gantz 311  (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
Dempsey and Gantz 311
(photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz is working to recruit countries from around the world to help combat what he is calling the “transatlantic smuggling” of weaponry from Iran to its terror proxies in the region.
Gantz raised the issue with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, during his visit to Israel over the weekend, as well as in talks with the various European chiefs of staff he met at NATO headquarters in Brussels last week.
RELATED:US carrier enters Gulf after Iran tones down threats World powers signal openness to Iran nuke talksUAE cautions against escalating Iran tension
Defense officials said Sunday that Gantz’s efforts were part of a larger initiative by the defense establishment to recruit a bloc of countries from around to world to crack down on Iranian arms smuggling in the region, particularly to Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Israel has specifically asked the US and the European Union to change the mandate of their fleets operating in the Red Sea and Mediterranean to allow them to board and detain vessels suspected of shipping weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah.
The officials said Gantz was seeking to build on the Gaza Counter Arms Smuggling Initiative, which was established following Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip in 2009 to prevent Hamas from re-arming.
GCASI’s members are Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom, the US and Israel.
“This is extremely complicated since it requires intelligence to know which boat is carrying what, as well as new maritime laws to enable navies to board and seize ships,” a senior defense official explained.
A number of meetings have been held since the establishment of the forum – in Ottawa, Copenhagen and London – but officials said results have been limited, mainly due to legal obstacles. Officials also said Egypt, which is used as a conduit for arms smuggling to Gaza, is not fully cooperating.
In recent years, the Israel Navy has intercepted a number of Iranian arms ships.
Last March, the navy seized the German-owned Victoria cargo ship as it was sailing off Israel’s coast on its way to Egypt while flying a Liberian flag. The ship was carrying 50 tons of weaponry destined for Hamas, including advanced Iranian-made radar-guided antiship missiles.
In November, 2009, the navy seized the Francop cargo ship, which was sailing near Cyprus on its way to Syria. Flying an Antiguan flag, the vessel was found to be carrying around 500 tons of weaponry, including long-range Katyusha rockets.
Israel is also hoping to extend the mandate of Operation Active Endeavor, which is a NATO project based in Naples under which Mediterranean countries share intelligence information on sea-based threats. At the moment, the mandate of the operation is to escort ships and share intelligence on potential threats, and the Israel Navy has in the past stationed an officer in Naples to liaison with NATO and other European countries active in the Mediterranean.
The navy has in the past voiced its intention to contribute a missile ship to the mission but has yet to do so, mainly due to budget cuts, which have prevented it from increasing its fleet.
Click here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threatClick here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threat