Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the world not to be deceived by Iran’s “phony smiles” as the military displayed dozens of rockets and mortars it says were seized from a ship the Iranians dispatched to Gaza Strip militants.
“There are those in the international arena who wouldn’t want us to hold this event and show what is really happening in Iran,” Netanyahu said in front of a dockside arms display at a naval base in the southern port city of Eilat. “It’s hard for them that we are unmasking the truth behind Iran’s phony smiles.”
The weapons were confiscated after the Israeli navy, acting on intelligence information, commandeered the Panamanian-flagged KLOS-C freighter in the Red Sea on March 5 as it was making its way to Port Sudan, the military has said.
The vessel was carrying 40 Syrian-made M-302 rockets, 181 mortar shells and about 400,000 bullet rounds, concealed in a shipping container under bags of cement, the military said. The M-302 rockets have a range that would have enabled Palestinian militants in Gaza to strike the northern city of Haifa, Netanyahu said.
“This time these shipments were long-range missiles; in the future Iran will be able to send nuclear arms to every port in the world,” said Netanyahu, who has warned that world leaders are too trusting of the new Iranian government. “The world has to wake up from its illusions before it’s too late and block Iran from developing the capability to obtain nuclear weapons.”
Iran denies its nuclear program is a cover to build bombs.
Yiftah Shapir, director of the Military Balance Project at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said the weapons shipment wouldn’t have significantly bolstered the capabilities of Gaza militants, who already possess rockets that have struck Israel’s central heartland.
“The change would have been incremental in terms of abilities had it arrived,” Shapir said. “It’s another extension of range, not precision, and additional quantity. It’s not a game-changer.”
The greater significance of the naval operation “was the message to Iran: ‘We won’t let you run amok,’” he said. “We are following you, we know what you’re doing and we’ll take action against it.”
The arms were loaded onto the KLOS-C at the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, Israel says. The weapons were buried under cement bags marked in English, “Made in Iran - Only for Export,” the military said.
Both Iran and the Hamas Islamic group that rules Gaza have denied any connection to the weapons shipment, which Israel says was to be smuggled into the Palestinian territory overland after being unloaded in Sudan. Hamas, classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union, said Israel fabricated the incident to justify its naval blockade of Gaza.
Today, ahead of Netanyahu’s appearance, Hamas organized a press conference where a masked member of its military wing said the group aims to strike the center of Israel with weapons it has developed. He spoke in Gaza City next to a new monument built in the shape of a long-range rocket.