An American naval taskforce in the Gulf of Aden has been ordered to hunt for suspicious Iranian arms ships heading for the Red Sea in a bid to deliver weapons to Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the British Times newspaper reported Sunday, quoting US diplomatic sources.
According to the sources, Combined Task Force 151, which is countering pirates in the Gulf of Aden, has been instructed to track Iranian arms shipments.
Last week, the report said, an amphibious transport dockship that serves as the command and control centre for the taskforce boarded the former Russian cargo vessel Monchegorsk, which is registered in Limassol and flying a Cypriot flag.
The ship docked at an Egyptian Red Sea port for a detailed search during which, according to unconfirmed reports, weapons were found.
On Friday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that his country would "immediately" send a boat to sail off the coast of Gaza in order to prevent arms smuggling and ensure the ceasefire is being maintained.
The al-Jazeera network reported over the weekend that American engineers would train Egyptian soldiers to work with tunnel-locating equipment.
According to the Times report, a document circulated to Israeli ministers by Military Intelligence last week suggested that despite the bombardment, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is well advanced with a huge program of arms resupply for Gaza.
According to the document, the Iranians are attempting to smuggle munitions from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, where the arms shipments are loaded onto commercial vessels.
In recent weeks, the report said, at least two Iranian destroyers have been sent to the Gulf of Aden on the pretext of fighting piracy. The Israelis suspect that the destroyers, which are currently in port in Aseb in Eritrea, may have had some role in the shipments.