The PA, Iran’s ‘Karine A’ rockets vs Hamas’ boat

Maj. Guy Rot tells the ‘Post’ about the dramatic chase that led to the capture of the Hamas ship

IDF Maj. Guy Rot (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
IDF Maj. Guy Rot
The players, the intelligence communities, the plots of distant enemies and the location of the smuggling by sea were all different then than today.
It’s just beyond the 18th anniversary of the capture of the Karine A, and a lot has changed.
Yes, a lot has changed since January 2002 when the Palestinian Authority’s Yasser Arafat tried to use a 40,000-ton commercial vessel with a 13-person crew to smuggle 54 tons of rockets of multiple ranges, anti-tank weapons, explosives and guns into Gaza via the Red Sea.
In contrast, last week the IDF announced that Hamas had tried to smuggle weapons and equipment for its naval commandos (reportedly) to the Gaza Strip on a two-person boat in the Mediterranean.
Maj. Guy Rot, who was in charge of the naval commander center for the area, described to The Jerusalem Post on Thursday the dramatic chase that led to capturing the Hamas ship.
Rot said that, “The ship was acting strangely, which set off alarms and led to a decision to follow it” more closely.
“When [some of the Israeli naval] boats came closer to the [Hamas] ship, it tried to get away into Egyptian waters to escape into a muddle of Egyptian ships,” he said.
At this point, Rot said they went into an all-out ship-to- ship chase, out-maneuvering it until they were able to take over the Hamas ship.
The two Hamas operatives were then brought to Ashdod, said Rot, summarizing that, “We thwarted a major smuggling operation that was a significant security” problem.
Undoubtedly the operation was significant, with Rot saying that foiling the desperate efforts by the Hamas operatives to escape was one of the most unusual and complex operations he had encountered in his many years of service.
But the differences between the Karine A and the operation announced this week were crucial.
So the first major change is that the biggest weapons smuggler in 2001 was the PA, and now it is Hamas.
When Arafat died in 2004 and Mahmoud Abbas took over the PA, he moved the authority away from direct involvement in weapons smuggling and terrorist activities.
Arafat also had grand strategic plans coordinated with Iran’s Qasem Soleimani and Hezbollah’s Imad Mughniyeh to bring Ashkelon and southern Israel to their knees with Katyusha rockets in the pre-missile defense era.
Presuming reports are correct that the weapons and equipment were for Hamas’s naval commandos, one could either see the plans as being much more limited, or at the very least a shift from a focus on rockets to a focus on naval commandos.
Although the Hamas boat may not have had the same strategic significance as the Karine A, a focus on developing Hamas’s naval commandos could be a clever way to hone a military threat which is less costly than smuggling large weapons like rockets.
Moreover, a PA armed with rockets in a pre-Iron Dome era was much more threatening than the threat Hamas rockets pose today in the era of Israel’s three-tier missile defense.
Also, Hamas has established its own robust rocket-manufacturing capability, already exceeding the volume of rockets it had during the 2014 Gaza war.
This means that smuggling rockets - other than if it could receive some of the precision-guided missiles Iran has been trying to smuggle to Hezbollah and to Shi’ite militias in Syria - is also less crucial for Hamas than it was for the PA.
Rot was not authorized to divulge information to the Post about who was providing or financing the new weapons to Hamas.
While there could be special reasons to keep this information quiet, the decision to do so means that chances are that Iran was not involved.
If Iran were involved, not only would Rot have been authorized to reveal the information but the IDF probably would have disclosed the entire operation three months ago when the foiled smuggling incident actually occurred.
In some ways, this may be one of the most significant differences between this incident and the Karine A.
Within hours of the Karine A docking at Eilat, Israel had organized a major press conference to present the vast load of weapons it had obtained to the global media in order to point the finger at both Arafat and Iran.
The Karine A was used by Israel to prove the unequivocal alliance of terrorism between Arafat and Iran in order to invalidate Arafat in the eyes of the Bush administration.
Iran and Hamas are already viewed as more problematic by much of the West than Arafat was at the time. But there is still a standoff between Iran and the West about a range of issues, and Israel would not miss an opportunity to embarrass the ayatollahs.
Could it be that this time, Israel delayed the announcement because when the incident occurred three months ago, Israel was trying to tempt Hamas into a ceasefire following the spike in fighting in November?
In any event, there is another difference involving foreign players between the Karine A and Hamas’s smuggling attempt announced this week.
As reported first in the Post in September 2017 based on a declassified internal IDF account eventually published in Brig.-Gen. Amos Gilboa’s Hebrew book Drama in the Red Sea, the CIA and US naval intelligence played a substantial role in tracking the Karine A for Israel.
On December 12, 2001, only three weeks before the eventual capture of the gun-running vessel, Israeli Naval Chief Admiral Yedidya Yaari ordered his staff, over their objections, to share all of its intelligence with the US intelligence agencies. He hoped that America could find the ship after Israeli intelligence lost its trail. And US intelligence was crucial in relocating the Karine A.
In this latest Hamas incident, Israel’s now much more hi-tech navy and more comprehensive patrols uncovered a tiny ship on their own that should have been even harder to track than the giant Karine A.
And the latest ship was captured in the Mediterranean whereas the Karine A was seized far out in the Red Sea. The idea was to board the ship before it could drop its weapons in floating tubes in waters off the Egyptian coast on its way into the Mediterranean.
So Israel has come a long way and is facing off against some different enemies trying different tactics.
The one thing that has stayed the same is that without the constant vigilance of the Israeli navy, a group of Palestinians in Gaza could bring new methods of terrorism to bear against Israel.