Major Israeli Haul of Palestinian Weapons Cargo

Friday afternoon, January 4, Israeli chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, flanked by Navy commander, Maj.-Gen Yedidya Yaari and Air Force commander Maj.-Gen Dan Halutz, called an unusual press briefing to announce the seizure of the 4,000-ton Palestinian arms freighter, Karine-A freighter Thursday night.
As they spoke, Israeli frogmen were sailing the ship north up the Red Sea from the Bab el Mandeb and checking through the cargo of 50 tons of weapons, more than fifty times the Lebanese cargo destined for the Palestinians aboard the San Torini last year.
Initial examination of the 83 crates turned up long and short range Katyusha rockets, with a maximum 20 km range, anti-tank Lao and Sagger missiles, 120 mm mortars and an abundance of heavy machine guns, rifles, mines, explosives and ammunition.
Most of the hardware originated in Iran.
It was carefully packed in specially manufactured sealed tubes attached to floating buoys for the Karine-A to drop off the Gaza Strip coast.
debkafile‘s military sources reveal that the capture of the Palestinians arms freighter was the product of close US-Israel intelligence, naval and air force collaboration. It lifted the veil off a corner of the secret joint operations between the two countries in a stretch of sea ranging from the southern approaches of the Persian Gulf near the Yemeni island of Socatra, up to the Horn of Africa and taking in the waters off Somalia and Djibouti and the Red Sea gateway of Bab el Mandeb.
The US Fifth Fleet maintains two large bases in Socatra and the Yemeni port of Hodeida.
Israel has the use of a large naval, air and intelligence base on Eritrea’s Red Sea Dalahk Archipelago that commands the routes from the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf.
Until the middle of this week, US and Israel worked together out of those bases to cut off the escape routes of al Qaeda and Taliban fugitives in flight from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.
debkafile was the first to expose one of those escape routes as running through south Tehran. Its sources now reveal that the US spy satellites tracking that route picked up the Palestinian arms ship. At first it was taken for a an arms delivery to the Lebanese Hizballah against a possible US-Israeli strike. However, intensive intelligence work by US agents in Iran and the Persian Gulf, and Israelis operating in some Persian Gulf states, uncovered its true destination.
US satellite, spyplanes and Fifth Fleet warships then shadowed the vessel from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, expecting it to bypass the Red Sea as too risky and reach the Mediterranean after circumnavigating Africa. An Israeli Dolphin submarines took part in the surveillance. But as the Karine-A reached Djibouti, it was signaled by radio to turn north into the Red Sea. The Israeli air force and navy swung into rapid action. Naval commandos and air force helicopters took off, accompanied by air force refueling craft.
On the night of January 3, Israel helicopter transports dropped one group of frogmen onto the deck of the Palestinian freighter, while a second rubber dinghies was carried to target with rubber dinghies by air transports.
The Palestinian Marine Police crew and captain were too surprised to resist the raiders and not a single shot was fired.
General Mofaz, who put off his working trip to the United States, due Wednesday, January 2, to complete the operation, announced Israel has clear proof that top Palestinian Authority officials, in violation of all its commitments, purchased the vessel and charged it with illegal freight for delivery to Palestinian territory. Those weapons would have brought every part of the Israeli population into range from Palestinian territory. Interception of the cargo saved untold Israeli lives and prevented the Palestinian Authority from elevating its level of terror.
Asked how Israel came to seize a Palestinian vessel on the high seas, Mofaz stressed thatIsrael does not confine its counter-terror operations to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but fights where it can. Arafat, he said, has long been in close touch with Iranian leaders and Iranian-sponsored terrorist groups.
Three facts emerge from the Karine-A episode:
A. Arafat could not have organized this large delivery without the help of the top level of the Lebanese Hizballah, which brings the notorious terrorist Imad Mughniyeh into the picture.
B. In view of this close collaboration, some of the heavy weapons aboard the vessel must have been destined for Hizballah instructors and fighting men currently posted in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
C. According to debkafile‘s military sources, the Palestinians and the Hizballah may have already divided up tasks for their next large-scale terror campaign, with the Lebanese group attacking from Lebanon in the North and the Palestinians using the new heavy hardware to attack Israeli population centers.

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