25 Jan 2009

More Catch and Release? US Navy Intercepts Iranian Rockets Meant For Gaza

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The Jerusalem Post story indicates that the Obama administration is, so far at least, willing to take limited action against Iranian surrogate operations aimed at Israel.

The interception of an Iranian arms ship by the US Navy in the Red Sea last week likely was conducted as a covert operation and is being played down by the US military due to the lack of a clear legal framework for such operations, an American expert on Iran told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday evening.

International media reported that an Iranian-owned merchant vessel flying a Cypriot flag was boarded early last week by US Navy personnel who discovered artillery shells on board.

The ship was initially suspected of being en route to delivering its cargo to smugglers in Sinai who would transfer the ammunition to Hamas in Gaza, but the US Navy became uncertain over the identity of the intended recipient since “Hamas is not known to use artillery,” The Associated Press cited a defense official as saying.

It was then allowed to sail toward the Suez Canal, where Egyptian authorities have been asked to conduct another search of the vessel, according to the report.

Debkafile (voice of Mossad) leaks:

The Iranian ship boarded by a US Navy Coast Guard team on the Red Sea last week before it could smuggle arms to Hamas is now disclosed by DEBKAfile’s military sources to have tried to trick the search team by enclosing its rocket cargo in secret compartments behind layers of steel. Furthermore, our sources reveal, the US has not yet found a harbor in the region for carrying out a thorough search. …

The Americans decided not to give the Israeli Navy a chance to seize the vessel and tow it to Eilat for fear of a Tehran ultimatum to Jerusalem, followed by Iranian attacks on Israeli naval craft patrolling the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea. …

But the US and Egyptian governments are in a fix. To break the Iranian ship’s holds open and expose the rockets destined for Hamas, the facilities of a sizeable port are needed. It would have to be Egyptian because the other coastal nations – Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia – are hostile or controlled by pirates. Both the US and Egypt are hesitant about precipitating a full-blown armed confrontation with Iran. The timing is wrong for the new Barack Obama administration, which is set on smoothing relations with Tehran through diplomatic engagement. Cairo has just launched a campaign to limit Tehran’s aggressive drive in the Middle East but does not want a premature clash.

DEBKAfile’s Iranian sources disclose that the ship’s captain had orders not to resist an American boarding team but impede a close look at its freight. The Navy Coast Guard searchers first found a large amount of ordnance and explosives in the ship’s hold, which the Iranian captain claimed were necessary for securing Iranian freighters heading from the Red Sea to the Suez Canal. But then, the US searchers using metal detectors perceived welded steel compartments packed with more hardware concealed at the bottom of the hull.

The option of towing it to a Persian Gulf port for an intensive search was rejected because the Gulf emirates hosting US bases were almost certain to shy away from involvement in the affair. Moreover, Tehran would be close enough to mount a naval commando operation to scuttle the ship before it was searched.

Our military sources estimate that eventually the US government may decide to let the Iranian arms ship sail through the Suez Canal out to the Mediterranean for lack of other options.

Naturally. Mustn’t provoke the mullahs by interfering with their shipments of rifles to the Indians. Who knows? They might become hostile and start supporting terrorism or building WMD.

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Maggie's Farm

Monday morning links…

US Navy tries catch-and-release on Iranian rockets. Yes, let’s be careful not to annoy the Iranians. Related: Iranian verbal attacks on Obama grow shriller.
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Feel sorry for wildly irresponsible people. Ben Stein
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