Israel asks Cyprus to search Iranian weapons ship; UPDATE Cypriot authorities searching ship; UPDATE: US stopped Israel from seizing shipOn Saturday, Israel officially asked Cyprus to search the Iranian ship that is carrying weapons for destined for the Gaza Strip. Because the ship carries a Cypriot flag, and because it is currently at port in Limassol, Cyprus, Cyprus may search and seize its cargo.
Livni spoke by telephone with Cypriot Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou, who said security forces had searched the ship on Friday and that he had ordered them to repeat the search Saturday, saying he was still not sure there had been a violation of U.N. resolutions.If this ship gets anywhere near Gaza, I hope the Israeli navy will sink it. Whether that happens will depend who is in power in Israel. I'd be shocked if the Olmert-Livni-Barak government were capable of sinking Rubber Duckie.
Kyprianou told Cyprus state radio, "This is a very serious matter concerning the Cyprus Republic's responsibilities as a member of the United Nations and the European Union, but also its relations with the international community." He refused to provide any information about what was found on the vessel, saying it would disturb the government's investigation, and urged patience "for a few days."
The Iranian vessel was already stopped and searched by United States naval authorities last week at the entrance to the Suez Canal, where it was discovered that there were arms on board.
The vessel was held up at Suez temporarily by Egypt as a result, but the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen told a news conference in Washington D.C. that the same ship had sailed to Syria earlier last week, and had headed towards Gaza from there. He added that American naval officers could not hold the ship due to legal limitations, and that a more specific U.N. resolution was required to authorize such a move.
The vessel was held by Cypriot authorities when it reached the port on Thursday, at the request of the United States and Israel. Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias told reporters that authorities were "handling this situation in a responsible manner" and that he could not "make comments which could… cause more problems."
UPDATE 12:14 PM
I've just received word that the ship - the container ship Monchgorsk (pictured above) is now being searched.
Cypriot authorities are searching a cargo ship suspected by the United States of carrying Iranian arms to Hamas militants in Gaza. Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias said the ship had violated U.N. resolutions.UPDATE 1:06 PM
The United States prevented Israel from seizing the ship in international waters.
According to unofficial intelligence reports, the Iran Shahed set out from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas Dec. 29, the second day of the Gaza conflict, changing its identity several times until hoisting a Cypriot flag. The vessel was stopped by the US Sixth Fleet in the Gulf of Aden on its way to Egypt, where it was believed to have planned to unload its cargo, which was then to be smuggled into the Gaza Strip. The US Navy searched the ship prior to its entry into the Suez Canal, with permission of the captain but found only "small munitions," so the vessel was allowed to continue its voyage after the search, and was seemingly bound for Syria. The US said it lacked the authority to seize the cargo.It's amazing how everyone was so concerned with legal niceties given what this ship was carrying. Had Israel bombed it from the air, the secondary explosions would have made the cargo's contents obvious. I'm glad the Cypriots finally intercepted the ship, but there has to be some penalty for seamen willing to involve themselves in transporting weapons. And what would have happened if the ship had tried to escape? Hmmm.
According to unconfirmed reports, the Israelis tried to seize the boat in the Red Sea (like they did in 2002 with the Karin A, a similar Iranian weapons ship then heading for Gaza). But 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 and US naval craft patrolling the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea. The ship had initially tried docking in Egypt but was denied access by the Egyptian Navy.
After the US Navy allowed it to continue its voyage through Suez, the Iranian vessel's captain called Tehran for instructions and was told to proceed to a Syrian port and there unload its arms consignment for Hamas, including a fresh supply of rockets. [So if there were rockets on board - which everyone believes there were - how did the Americans decide there were only 'small munitions'? CiJ]
But entering the Mediterranean on Jan. 26, the Iranian ship found three waiting armadas – Israeli missile boats, vessels of the US Sixth Fleet and the Chabanenko, a Russian anti-submarine destroyer, coming from Tartus Port in Syria. They all stayed close to the Iranian vessel – each with its own agenda: The Israeli missile boats blocked its access to the shores of Gaza, while the Russian destroyer kept watch for developments. On Thursday afternoon, though, as the ship passed 100 km. off the coast of the Cyprus port of Limassol, it was stopped by the Cypriot Navy, which was legally allowed to intercept it since it was flying a Cypriot flag. Cyprus's decision to intercept the ship, officials said, was made after the United States and several European countries applied pressure on the government in Nicosia. The officials said that the ship was believed to be carrying a number of shipping containers packed with weaponry.