The Obama administration publicly rebuked Iran on Monday over a shipment of Gaza-bound missiles that was intercepted last Wednesday in the Red Sea by the Israeli Navy.
Given the five days it took for the White House to issue an official condemnation, it appeared as though the administration needed time to reconcile evidence of Iran’s state-sponsorship of terrorism with the ongoing diplomatic push to reach a deal on capping Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
“It is important to make clear that even as we continue efforts to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program through diplomacy, we will continue, in coordination with our partners and allies, to push back against Iranian support for terrorism, threats against our friends and partners, and violations of human rights,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at a briefing.
Carney said Washington had started working with Israel, through intelligence and military channels and at the national security adviser level, as soon as it knew that the shipment was on the move.
“We were very clear about our views on the ship that was interdicted and the fact that we condemn in the strongest terms Iran’s efforts to supply terrorist organizations operating in the region with weaponry,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted the international community Monday for clinging to what he said was the illusion of a changed Iran. He made the comments surrounded by a cache of missiles seized aboard the Klos-C.
Before making his statement, Netanyahu was briefed by military officials among the rows of weapons, marked with Iranian seals, neatly arrayed at the port. The arms, the officials said, included M-302 missiles with a range of up to 160-kilometers (100 miles). The officials said the Iranian-shipped, Syrian-made missiles were capable of causing more damage than the Iranian-made M-75 or Fajr-5 missiles used by Hamas against Israel in the past.
The IDF said it found 40 M-302 rockets aboard the Panamanian-flagged Klos-C, as well as 181 120-mm. mortar shells and approximately 400,000 7.62-caliber rounds. IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the mortar rounds had been made in Iran. Before he spoke to the press, IDF officers showed Netanyahu documentation they said confirmed the Iranian origin of the shipment.
With a grave expression, the prime minister blasted Western leaders for “smilingly shaking hands” with Iranian leaders even as the missiles were being unloaded at Israel’s southern Eilat port — a shipment as heavily masked, Netanyahu said, as Iran’s nuclear program.
He was referring to a European Union delegation led by foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who arrived in Iran Sunday for her first visit to the country — the first European diplomat in her position to do so since 2008 — and held a joint press conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif.
Calling on the international to wake up and see the truth behind “Iran’s fake smiles … before it’s too late,” Netanyahu said world powers must stop Iran from achieving military nuclear capabilities.
“They would like to continue to build up the illusion that Iran has changed course, but the facts we see on this pier prove the exact opposite,” Netanyahu said.
He said there was conclusive proof, including testimony by the ship’s crew, that the weapons containers were loaded onto the Klos-C in Bandar Abbas, Iran’s largest port. He said the ship’s bills of lading, both real and fabricated, showed that Iran had tried to mask the contents of the shipment — precisely as it masks its nuclear efforts.
“Just as Iran tried to camouflage this deadly weapons shipment, Iran camouflages its military nuclear program,” he said.
“The international community would like to ignore Iran’s continued criminal hostility; the massacre it is helping to commit in Syria; its support for terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon,” said Netanyahu.
“There are those who would prefer that we not hold this news conference here today,” he added, addressing the foreign press in English. “They feel uncomfortable. They would prefer that we continue to nurture the illusion” of a new, moderate Iran, he added.
The prime minister said that the West was also keen to overlook human rights violations within Iran, such as the hundreds of executions that take place in the country each year.
He said that when it came to Israel, on the other hand, the international community loudly condemned even the smallest violation.
“The condemnations I’ve heard from the international community in the face of this murderous shipment have been limp, few and far between,” Netanyahu said.
“[But] if we build a balcony in some neighborhood in Jerusalem, harsh criticism is heard from the international community. This hypocrisy is not only morally unacceptable, it is also dangerous, because Iran camouflages its military nuclear program just as it tried to camouflage this deadly arms shipment.”