EILAT (AFP) – A ship allegedly carrying advanced rockets from Iran to Gaza that was intercepted by the Israeli navy was escorted into the Red Sea port of Eilat on Saturday.
Israeli naval commandos seized the vessel on Wednesday in the Red Sea between Eritrea and Sudan, with the military saying it was carrying an Iranian shipment of M-302 rockets destined for the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
The Panamanian-flagged Klos-C was escorted into Eilat port by two Israeli warships.
Thousands of Israelis gathered on a hill overlooking the port broke into applause when the ship came into view.
“We will dismantle all the containers to verify if they contain other weapons,” an army spokesman said, adding that a news conference will be held at the end of operations late on Monday.
Israeli radio said that ambassadors and military attaches posted to Israel as well as “prominent Israeli figures” would be invited to view the weapons seized by the army.
This, the radio said, “will prove to the world that Iran is providing weapons to terrorists active in the Gaza Strip”.
Iran has flatly denied any involvement with the shipment, which the Israeli army said was carrying missiles capable of striking anywhere in Israel.
At the time of the vessel’s capture on Wednesday, military spokesman Brigadier General Motti Almoz told army radio that dozens of the M-302 long-range missiles were on board.
“From what we understand, it was carrying dozens of M-302 long-range missiles which can reach 150 to 200 kilometres (90-125 miles). It may be carrying other weapons as well, but we can only know this when it reaches Eilat.
“There is clear and unequivocal information that this (shipment) came from Iran,” Almoz said, without elaborating.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused Israel of lying and noted that the announcement of its capture coincided with a speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the AIPAC pro-Israeli lobby in the United States.
“An Iranian ship carrying arms for Gaza. Captured just in time for annual AIPAC anti Iran campaign. Amazing Coincidence! Or same failed lies,” Zarif wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
Netanyahu has been pressing the international community to maintain crippling economic sanctions on Iran over its nuclear drive, and used last week’s visit to the US to push his case.
The United States said on Wednesday its intelligence services and military worked with Israel to track the ship.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Washington started to work with Israel through intelligence and military channels and at the national security adviser level as soon as it knew the shipment was on the move.
World powers have eased the sanctions on Iran as part of a landmark deal struck in November, under which Iran undertook to curb its nuclear activities for six month.
The United States, other Western powers and Israel have long suspected Iran of using its nuclear energy programme as a cover for developing atomic weapons, a charge denied by Tehran.