US Navy Intercepts Iranian Ship

A U.S. Naval unit in the Gulf of Aden has been ordered to search for suspicious Iranian ships containing weapons heading for Gaza.

Avraham Zuroff ,

USS San Antonio
USS San Antonio

A U.S. Naval vessel in the Gulf of Aden has been ordered to search for suspicious Iranian ships containing weaponry heading for Gaza. Combined Task Force 151, which is keeping pirates at bay in the Gulf of Aden, has been ordered to track Iranian arms shipments, the Sunday Times reports.

Naval officers from the USS San Antonio, an amphibious transport dockship that serves as the headquarters for the taskforce, last week boarded a cargo vessel registered in Limassol and flying a Cypriot flag.

Upon boarding the ship in the Red Sea, the naval officers discovered numerous crates with the inscription “hazardous materials.” The naval officers asked Egyptian authorities to order the Iranian ship to proceed to an Egyptian port for a detailed search before allowing it to travel through the Suez Canal. According to unconfirmed reports, the navy found armaments. However, the U.S. has not confirmed the media reports.

Probably 'Covert Operation'

Prof. Raymond Tanter, president of the Washington-based Iran Policy Committee, told The Jerusalem Post, “It is not surprising that the U.S. Navy is reluctant to acknowledge the operation, which may have been covert,” adding that legal challenges are present when intercepting ships flying flags of a sovereign country. In last week’s seizure, the Iranian-owned ship was flying a Cypriot flag, “and the maritime law is less able to justify stop and search operations against such ships,” Tanter clarified.

Tanter said he feels that intelligence provided by friendly nations, such as Egypt, helped the U.S. intercept the Iranian boat. Due to concern in intelligence circles that Iran is attempting to ship a ‘dirty bomb’ to Gaza, the U.S. has taken strong measures to prevent the arms from reaching Hamas. Nonetheless, due to legal wranglings, the U.S. has covertly performed the operation, Tanter implied.

In recent weeks, at least two Iranian warships have entered the Gulf of Aden, officially as a means of fighting Somali piracy. Israel nevertheless claims that Iran is attempting to rearm the Hamas-run Palestinian Authority in Gaza.

Israel and the U.S. signed a political-military memorandum of understanding on January 16 regarding the joint tracking of arms smuggling from Iran into Gaza. The agreement includes the American obligation to act together with NATO and other agents in order to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza via the Mediterranean Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea, and eastern Africa.

Although one of the IDF’s objectives in the Operation “Cast Lead” was to eliminate smuggling tunnels from Egypt to Gaza, Arab sources estimate that 20 percent of the pre-war total, or 100 tunnels remain open as a possible means to rearm the Hamas terrorist entity.