Israeli troops in Eilat unloaded Sunday morning some 150 containers, suspected of holding illicit Iranian arms, from a ship seized several days earlier in the Red Sea.
Israeli officials plan on inspecting the containers taken off the Klos-C over the next several days, and are expected to uncover more munitions like the medium-range missiles the army says it already found in an initial search.
Naval commandos seized the vessel on Wednesday in the Red Sea between Eritrea and Sudan, and it was escorted into Eilat on Saturday by two Israeli warships.
The IDF said it was carrying an Iranian shipment of M-302 rockets destined for the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
— LTC (R) Peter Lerner (@LTCPeterLerner) March 9, 2014
IDF spokesperson Peter Lerner said on Twitter there were “approximately 150 containers” and a hangar housing the seized munitions had “rows of …rockets.”
Israel has hailed the discovery of the shipment as exposing Iranian efforts to support global terrorism.
On Sunday, a senior security official in Egypt said the shipment was destined for militants in either the Sinai Peninsula or the Gaza Strip.
The official said Sunday that the ship carrying the missiles took the same route used by vessels ferrying potential illegal migrants who arrive in Sinai and then sneak across the border into Israel.
He said the missiles have a range of 90 kilometers, and that the ship carrying them was under surveillance while it was off Sudan’s Red Sea coast.
Meanwhile Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he wanted EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, in Tehran for talks, to bring up the issue.
“I call this to the attention of Catherine Ashton, who is now visiting Tehran,” he said at the start of a weekly cabinet meeting. “I would like to ask her if she asked her Iranian hosts about this shipment of weapons for terrorist organizations, and if not, why not.”
Netanyahu scheduled a press conference in Eilat on Monday to present and detail the findings.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz met with soldiers who participated in the raid and hailed their success on Saturday evening. During the meeting, at a naval base in Eilat, Gantz told the soldiers that the struggle against the empowerment of terrorist groups and the effort to keep them from strategic arms hadn’t ended with their return home to Israel.
“Each one of these rockets poses a threat to the safety of the citizens of Israel — each bullet and each rocket that was discovered had an Israeli address,” he said.
Iran has flatly denied any involvement with the shipment, which the Israeli army said was carrying missiles capable of striking anywhere in Israel.
The army said Wednesday that soldiers carried out a preliminary inspection of the ship and found several dozen advanced Syrian M-302 missiles, with a range of up to 200 kilometers (125 miles) and a payload of up to 170 kilograms (375 pounds). The missiles were hidden in shipping containers also carrying sacks of concrete with Iranian markings.
Israel and the US coordinated intelligence and military activities leading up to Israel’s seizure of the Klos-C off the coast of Port Sudan, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and the State Department said Wednesday.
After consultations between American and Israeli officials, it was decided that Israel would act against the vessel, Shapiro told Israel Radio, even though the Pentagon had already drafted plans to intercept the ship.
Israel’s capture of the Klos-C followed intensive intelligence work, officials said, with the missile shipment tracked for months from Damascus to Iran and from there to Iraq before it was intercepted en route to Gaza.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.