Israel and the US coordinated intelligence and military activities leading up to Israel’s seizure of a ship laden with a cache of advanced weaponry allegedly headed to Gaza from Iran, the US ambassador to Israel and the State Department said Wednesday.
After consultations between American and Israeli officials, it was decided that Israel would act against the vessel, Ambassador Dan Shapiro told Israel Radio. Shapiro is currently accompanying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a trip through California.
The ambassador added that Washington is aware that Tehran supports terror throughout the Middle East. The US congratulates Israel on Wednesday’s operation, he said.
Israel captured the ship near Port Sudan early Wednesday with Israeli officials saying the naval operation followed heavy intelligence work tracking the missile shipment from Damascus to Iran and from there to Iraq before being captured en route to Gaza.
State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said the Pentagon had made its own plan of action to interdict the Klos-C vessel, though Israel ended up carrying out the operation on its own.
“Soon after becoming aware of the imminent movement of the suspected vessel, the White House directed the Department of Defense to monitor the vessel and to develop concepts of operation for a range of options in order to be prepared to take unilateral steps if necessary,” Psaki said in a press briefing Wednesday.
“This is part of, of course, a robust effort on the part of the Administration. We were closely coordinated, our intelligence and military activities, with the – with our Israeli counterparts, who ultimately chose to take the lead with this case.”
The US was one of three nations to know about the operation before it became public.
Turkey was reportedly notified of the operation right after it took place, but before Israeli commandos had returned to their base, because most of the crew aboard the ship carried Turkish citizenship, according to reports in the Hebrew media.
Panama was also informed right afterward because the ship was flying its flag.
Earlier Wednesday Israel announced that its navy intercepted the Klos-C in international waters between Sudan and Eritrea that was carrying “an Iranian shipment of advanced weapons.”
Typically, news of an operation such as a weapons seizure in international waters would be embargoed until the forces returned to the country safely, but the government eschewed the gag order because it was afraid the story would be leaked first by either Turkey or Panama.
While Psaki confirmed that Israel did indeed “interdict a shipment of illicit Iranian arms,” she added that some details have yet to be confirmed.
Netanyahu, still in the US after meeting with President Barack Obama on Iran and ongoing peace talks with the Palestinians, lauded the IDF and castigated Iran.
“I would like to congratulate the IDF, Israel’s intelligence apparatuses and of course the commanders and soldiers of the navy who carried out a flawless operation to capture a covert Iranian weapons ship,” Netanyahu said in a video statement Wednesday.
“As it conducts talks with [world] powers, as Iran smiles and utters pleasantries, the same Iran is sending lethal weapons to terror organizations…via an intricate network of clandestine global operations…in order to hurt innocent civilians,” he said.
“This is the real Iran and this country must not be allowed to have nuclear weapons,” he said. “We will continue to do whatever is necessary to protect Israeli citizens.”
Psaki stressed that US negotiations with Iran regarding its nuclear program would not affect its efforts to fight Iran on other fronts.
“Even as we continue our efforts to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program through diplomacy, we will continue to stand up to Iran’s support for destabilizing activities in the region in coordination with our partners and allies,” she said.
IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said that, despite the deep rift between Iran and Hamas, the weapons cargo “was meant for all terror organizations, including Hamas.”
Both Hamas and Iran denied the allegations.
Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report.