Many hearts were pounding Tuesday, and not only at Navy headquarters, but also in various branches of Israel's intelligence community. When Flotilla 13 commandoes and very senior Navy officers boarded the ship and started to crawl into containers, amid cotton and lentil bags, doubts emerged for a moment: Maybe we screwed up.
The arms shipments were camouflaged in a highly professional manner. Yet intelligence officials, both on shore and on the ship, possessed experience accumulated in the previous raid of a vessel carrying arms from Iran to Hezbollah, in November 2009.
There too, Navy commandoes faced hundreds of containers and were unable to find weapons after searching through some of them. A young intelligence officer who was waiting on shore that time came up with the solution and uncovered the secret of Iranian concealment.
Flotilla 13 commandoes boarded the Victoria armed with this knowledge, and indeed, this time the seizure was quicker. When Navy Chief, Major General Eli Merom, reported from sea that the missiles were found, officials could breathe a sigh of relief. A long, sophisticated intelligence operation drew to its successful conclusion.
The mostly psychological advantage gained by Hezbollah after hitting an Israeli Navy ship in 2006 has turned into an orderly doctrine by the so-called "axis of evil." It was only a matter of time before elements in the Gaza Strips try to equip themselves with these missiles. The declared aim would be to disrupt Navy operations off the Gaza shores and southern Israel, and to threaten strategic sites safeguarded by the Navy: Gas drilling sites, oil tankers and so on.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad attempted to hit these targets in the past, on more than one occasion - using divers, swimmers, and explosive boats - without success.
Balance-breaking weaponsHad these missiles reached Gaza, the Navy would have had to fundamentally alter its operations in this theater. Some Navy ships, for example, would have had to distance from shore and operate in a different way. Moreover, all regular security operations, including the monitoring of those who enter and leave Gaza via the sea, would have become more complex.
On top of this, had these missiles reached Gaza, the IDF would be required to enter the Strip and destroy them, as these are considered balance-breaking arms.
The journey undertaken by these missiles from Syria cannot be disconnected from the appearance of the two Iranian ships about a month ago in the Mediterranean. It is possible that the Iranian vessels unloaded these missiles at the Syrian port. The exceptional success of the Navy in other arms smuggling theaters, as well as the achievements of Israel's military intelligence branch, Mossad, and Shin Bet, forced Iran's revolutionary guards to seek other routes.
Here we saw concealment and deception processes coming into the picture, involving Syrian officials, Lebanese commerce elements associated with Hezbollah, and certain Lebanese government officials. This entire effort was undertaken so that the arms shipments would secretly be uploaded on the Victoria, which belongs to a German company.
In the bottom line, one does not argue with success. We should take our hats off to the Navy and to all those intelligence officials, both in and out of the army, who worked on this operation for a long time and spared us much bloodshed.
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