Naval commandos from the Hamas terror group reportedly succeeded in retrieving a trove of ammunition, including large-caliber naval shells, from a sunken British warship off the coast of the Gaza Strip with the aim of using it to arm itself against Israel.
Over a period of several weeks, divers removed the ammunition from HMS M15, which was sunk in 1917 during World War I by a German submarine and now lies about a kilometer northeast of Gaza City, Channel 12 reported Monday.
During an exercise, Hamas divers stumbled upon the wreck lying on its side at a depth of 33 meters (18 fathoms), with shells strewn across the ocean floor.
An operation was launched to bring the munitions ashore, and then to an underground rocket assembly facility, where they were dismantled by Hamas explosives experts, the report said. The plan was to use the explosives from the shells to arm the warheads of Hamas-produced rockets and recycle the gunpowder propellant for rocket fuel.
However, after over 100 years at the bottom of the sea the materials proved to be reportedly unusable.
Israel maintains a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip — supported by Egypt as well — which it says is in place to prevent terror groups in the Hamas-controlled territory from smuggling in weapons and explosives. As a result, Hamas has had difficulty obtaining military-grade explosives or rocket fuel materials, resorting instead to producing its own supplies. According to the report, the group had hoped HMS M15 would provide a windfall.
Ramy Sadnai, a former Israeli naval commando, said Israel was aware of the existence of the ship.
“For many years we planned to dive to it, we had exact maps and appropriate equipment, but each time the security situation prevented us from getting there and diving,” Sadnai told Channel 12. “It simply sank too close to the Gaza coast and regrettably Hamas beat us to it.”
HMS M15 was a monitor-type vessel armed with a relatively large 9.2-inch gun capable of firing 170-kilogram shells to a distance of nearly 30 kilometers. Intended for shore bombardment, the ship was involved in the defense of the Suez Canal during World War I. It later shelled Gaza during the Third Battle of Gaza, which ended in an allied victory against Ottoman forces, opening the way to the eventual conquest of Palestine and the resulting British Mandate.