VIDEO - The "Victoria" vessel docked in the Ashdod Port on Wednesday after Navy commandos seized it on Tuesday finding some 50 tons of Gaza-bound weapons. Israeli officials estimate "Victoria" was not the first ship trying to smuggle weapons from Syria to Egypt via Turkey. In the past, Iran was known to initiate smugglings on a southern route via Yemen and Sudan.
Alongside the weapons found on ship was a Farsi-language manual with a Revolutionary Guards logo which links Iran to the arms smuggling attempt. The vessel contained other equipment including what are possibly rocket launchers and radar devices.
It remains unclear how the Iranian weapons reached Syria but it is certain the arms did not pass through Turkey. The Iranians have a sophisticated way of covering their tracks by using European companies and docking in several ports.
It is estimated the Iranian authorities are taking advantage of the weakening of Egypt's security apparatuses including its intelligence service which enables them to send weapons and terrorists into Sinai unchecked. This also puts a strain on Israel's security and intelligence cooperation with Egypt.
Israel considers efforts to smuggle anti-ship missiles to Gaza a strategic threat and a threat to the balance in the region. The weapons directly threaten any vessel docking in Ashkelon and the Yam Tatis oil rig which is an important source of gas for Israel.
'Victoria' enters Ashdod Port (Video: Roee Idan)
Importance of naval blockade
Israel security officials consider the recent takeover further proof that the naval blockade on Gaza must continue. Army officials believe that for any ship with heavy weaponry seized, there are several others which successfully reach their destination despite frequent Navy checks.
Ninety-five percent of all shipments are harmless but the fact that the Navy commandos found the exact weapons container on board the "Victoria" is a testament to the IDF's intelligence achievement.
Israel is currently unaware of any surface-to-sea weapons system in the hands of Hamas or the Islamic Jihad. It appears the "Victoria" shipment was meant to provide the terror groups with the first missiles for this system.
Weapons seized on "Victoria" (Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Foreign reporters will be able to view the weapons up close later on Wednesday. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak will also visit "Victoria" after IDF sappers inspect the weapons containers.
The ship's crew, comprised of African and East European citizens will undergo further questioning. The IDF hopes to send the ship off to its next commercial destination.
Meanwhile, Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the Islamic Movement's northern branch visited the "Marmara" ship seized by Navy commados last June in incident which left nine people dead.
Salah, who was on board the ship at the time, said he was beaten and chained by "Zionist soldiers."
Yoav Zitun, Dudi Cohen, Roee Nahmias and Hassan Shaalan contributed to this report
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