Iran weapons ship stopped/The Iran negotiations revisited

Nov 5, 2009 | AIJAC staff

Update from AIJAC

November 5, 2009
Number 11/09 #01

This Update reports on the news overnight that Israel has seized a weapons ship carrying a massive arms shipment, believed to be for Hezbollah (in violation of UN Security Council regulations), from Iran to Syria, and places this story in the context of the Iranian nuclear negotiations.

First up is a news story on the ship, the Antiguan-registered Francop, which was carrying hundreds of tons of weapons and thousands of rockets, and was seized by Israeli commandos near Cyprus. Interestingly, the crew of the vessel were apparently unaware of the nature of the cargo they were carrying, as it was concealed in containers claimed to be “humanitarian aid.” Israeli commentators say the massive shipment couuld have altered the regional balance of power, and are recalling the Karine A incident in 2002, where a large cargo of Iranian illegal arms for the Palestinians was also seized by Israel. For the full story, CLICK HERE. Video of the arms cache seizure is here,  while comment from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the seizure is here. Comments on what this says about Iran’s wider regional ambitions come from the JINSA thinktank and Israeli commentator Noah Pollack.

Next up, top Israeli journalist and author Yossi Klein Halevi explains how Israelis feel about the current Iranian nuclear negotiations. He says that the Iranian problem has recreated a feeling of “existential dread” in Israel, and left Israelis asking questions about the desirability and feasibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran’s illegal nuclear facilities, if all else ultimately fails. And he says Israelis are concerned that any deal will likely provide Iran an opportunity to cheat while barring any action against it. For Halevi’s complete discussion, CLICK HERE.

Finally, columnist and former Jerusalem Post editor Bret Stephens looks at the current Iranian response to the uranium deal being discussed with the US and Europeans in the context of the Iranian history of negotiations on nuclear matters. He argues that it is a mistake to look for ways to avoid accepting the apparent Iranian “no” on this deal (or at least to attempt to re-write the deal so far that it ceases to be the same deal at all – see here for details on the Iranian response), as some commentators and diplomats appear to be doing. Looking at past negotiations, he argues that Iran has form, past Iranian “noes” have meant no, and that attempts to plead with the Iranians or salvage the deal though yet more diplomacy and engagement are likely to be futile and counter-productive. For all of Stephens’ argument, CLICK HERE. Arguing that Iran is successfully getting recognition of its right to enrich uranium, whether it agrees to the deal or not, is Iranian exile writer Amir Taheri, while Peter Grier of the Christian Science Monitor reminds everyone that the clock is constantly ticking on Iran’s nuclear ambitions as more and more uranium is being enriched.

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Weapons bound for Syria, Hizbullah

Yaakov Katz and jpost.com staff


Hundreds of tons of weaponry, ten times the size of the Karine A shipment of 2002, were seized in an overnight raid Tuesday by the Israeli navy, some 100 nautical miles west of Israel, officials said.

Defense officials said the 140-meter long Francop, intercepted near Cyprus, was carrying arms sent by Iran and destined for Syria and possibly also Hizbullah.

The weapons seized on the ship, which was sailing under an Antiguan flag, included some 3,000 rockets of various types, as well as bullets and ammunition.

The transfer of such large amounts of weapons out of Iran could “create a balance of power” between Israel and terrorist organizations, assessed Brigadier General Rani Ben-Yehuda, deputy commander of the Israeli navy, at a press conference following the seizures.

After several days of the Israeli military monitoring the ship, IDF Navy Seals boarded it in the middle of the night. Suspicions were raised after the Seals uncovered certificates within containers that documented Iran as the point of origin for some containers, with Syria as the intended destination.

Upon receiving permission from relevant authorities, including the political establishment, the seals commandeered the ship and brought it to Israel. When the vessel was already en route to Israeli shores, Israel apprised the government of Antigua and the company that owns the ship of the situation, said the officials.

After leaving the Bandar-Abbas port in Iran, the cargo was shipped through the Suez Canal, unloaded at the Mediterranean port of Damietta in Egypt and then loaded onto the ship that was captured by the navy. The intended destination was the port of Latakia in Syria, with the contents of the shipment to be sent to Hizbullah, they said.

The ship’s crew was unaware of the weapons on board, as the armaments were disguised as humanitarian aid and hidden behind sacks of polyethylene.

“This is the third time this year that Iran is disregarding international law and UN Security Council resolutions which forbid it to transfer weaponry,” Ben-Yehuda said. He went on to say that the Navy regularly conducts operations hundreds of miles from Israel’s shores to inspect ships suspected of transporting illegal weapons shipments from Iran to terror proxies like Hizbullah and Hamas.

Israel Radio reported that advanced anti-aircraft platforms never before found in the region were also on board.

The Francop is currently docked in the Ashdod port, and being unloaded for further inspection.

Ben-Yehuda said that there was regular intelligence indicating that Iran was continuing to support terror groups with large amounts of weapons aimed at being used against Israel. Furthermore, it was likely that additional shipments would be sent out from Iran, he said.

In recent years, Revolutionary Guard-founded Hizbullah’s military capability has been greatly enhanced by shipments from its more powerful allies. The terrorist organization, whose operatives are said to number 15,000, has in recent years been supplied with short-range Grad rockets, heavy artillery Zelzal rockets, surface-to-surface weaponry, deadly anti-warship missiles such as the Chinese-made C-802 – which hit INS corvette Hanit during the Second Lebanon War – and possibly also advanced surface-air missiles.

The containers aboard the ship were owned by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines Group, or IRISL, the military said, adding that each container contained sacks, filled with 25 kilos of silicon, made by the Natural Petrol Company in Iran.

Upon opening the containers used for smuggling the weapons, only the sacks were visible, but behind the sacks lay weapons.

The weapons included 107-millimeter rockets, 60-millimeter mortars, 7.62-rifle Kalashnikov-ammunition, F-1 grenades and 122-millimeter Katyusha rockets. On the side of some of the cases inside the containers the words “parts of bulldozers” was written.

Ben-Yehuda called the shipment “very advanced weaponry,” adding that although the Iranian containers were loaded at port of Damietta in Egypt, the Egyptians were totally unaware of the ship’s contents.

A month ago, Der Spiegel reported that the US Navy had boarded a German cargo ship near the Suez Canal that was carrying ammunition from Iran to Syria or Hizbullah.

In the past year, the Navy intercepted several vessels suspected of illicitly carrying munitions intended for Israel’s enemies.

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In tabloid cartoons and dinner conversations, Israelis brace themselves for war with Iran.


Wall Street Journal, Oct. 30, 2009,

The postcard from the Home Front Command that recently arrived in my mailbox looks like an ad from the Ministry of Tourism. A map of Israel is divided by color into six regions, each symbolized by an upbeat drawing: a smiling camel in the Negev desert, a skier in the Golan Heights. In fact, each region signifies the amount of time residents will have to seek shelter from an impending missile attack. If you live along the Gaza border, you have 15 seconds after the siren sounds. Jerusalemites get a full three minutes. But as the regions move farther north, the time drops again, until finally, along the Lebanese and Syrian borders, the color red designates “immediate entry into a shelter.” In other words, if you’re not already inside a shelter don’t bother looking for one.

The invisible but all-pervasive presence on that cheerful map of existential dread is Iran. If Israel were to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, Tehran’s two terrorist allies on our borders—Hezbollah and Hamas—would almost certainly renew attacks against the Israeli home front. And Tel Aviv would be hit by Iranian long-range missiles.

On the other hand, if Israel refrains from attacking Iran and international efforts to stop its nuclearization fail, the results along our border would likely be even more catastrophic. Hezbollah and Hamas would be emboldened politically and psychologically. The threat of a nuclear attack on Tel Aviv would become a permanent part of Israeli reality. This would do incalculable damage to Israel’s sense of security.

Given these dreadful options, one might assume that the Israeli public would respond with relief to reports that Iran is now considering the International Atomic Energy Agency’s proposal to transfer 70% of its known, low-enriched uranium to Russia for treatment that would seriously reduce its potential for military application. In fact, Israelis from the right and the left have reacted with heightened anxiety. “Kosher Uranium,” read the mocking headline of Israel’s largest daily, Yediot Aharonot. Media commentators noted that easing world pressure on Iran will simply enable it to cheat more easily. If Iranian leaders are prepared to sign an agreement, Israelis argue, that’s because they know something the rest of us don’t.

In the last few years, Israelis have been asking themselves two questions with increasing urgency: Should we attack Iran if all other options fail? And can we inflict sufficient damage to justify the consequences?

As sanctions efforts faltered, most Israelis came to answer the first question affirmatively. A key moment in coalescing that resolve occurred in December 2006, when the Iranian regime sponsored an “International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust,” a two day meeting of Holocaust deniers. For Israelis, that event ended the debate over whether a nuclear Iran could be deterred by the threat of counter-force. A regime that assembles the world’s crackpots to deny the most documented atrocity in history—at the very moment it is trying to fend off sanctions and convince the international community of its sanity—may well be immune to rational self-interest.

Opinion here has been divided about the ability of an Israeli strike to significantly delay Iran’s nuclear program. But Israelis have dealt with their doubts by resurrecting a phrase from the country’s early years: Ein breira, there’s no choice. Besides, as one leading Israeli security official who has been involved in the Iranian issue for many years put it to me, “Technical problems have technical solutions.” Israelis tend to trust their strategic planners to find those solutions.

In the past few months, Israelis have begun asking themselves a new question: Has the Obama administration’s engagement with Iran effectively ended the possibility of a military strike?

Few Israelis took seriously the recent call by former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski to shoot down Israeli planes if they take off for Iran. But American attempts to reassure the Israeli public of its commitment to Israel’s security have largely backfired. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent threat to “obliterate” Iran if it launched a nuclear attack against Israel only reinforced Israeli fears that the U.S. would prefer to contain a nuclear Iran rather than pre-empt it militarily.

On the face of it, this is not May 1967. There is not the same sense of impending catastrophe that held the Israeli public in the weeks before the Six Day War. Israelis are preoccupied with the fate of Gilad Shalit (the kidnapped Israeli soldier held by Hamas), with the country’s faltering relations with Turkey, with the U.N.’s denial of Israel’s right to defend itself, and with an unprecedented rise in violent crime.

But the Iranian threat has seeped into daily life as a constant, if barely conscious anxiety. It emerges at unexpected moments, as black humor or an incongruous aside in casual conversation. “I think we’re going to attack soon,” a friend said to me over Sabbath dinner, as we talked about our children going off to the army and to India.

Now, with the possibility of a deal with Iran, Israelis realise that a military confrontation will almost certainly be deferred. Still, the threat remains.

A recent cartoon in the newspaper Ma’ariv showed a drawing of a sukkah, the booth covered with palm branches that Jews build for the autumn festival of Tabernacles. A voice from inside the booth asked, “Will these palm branches protect us from Iranian missiles?”

Israelis still believe in their ability to protect themselves—and many believe too in the divine protection that is said to hover over the fragile booths. Both are expressions of faith from a people that fear they may once again face the unthinkable alone.

Mr. Klein Halevi is a senior fellow at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, and a contributing editor to the New Republic


When No Means No

Pleading with Iran will get the West nowhere.


Wall Street Journal, NOVEMBER 2, 2009

I once overhead a guy try to make a date over the phone. His end of the conversation went roughly as follows:

“How about Friday?” (Pause.) “Not Friday? Because I’m free most of the weekend.” (Pause.) “Not this weekend? What about next Saturday?” (Pause.) “Are you free at all next week?” (Long pause.) “Well, are you ever free?”

Apparently she was not, at least as far as he was concerned.

Now it’s the turn of the Obama administration to play the guy who won’t take a hint. And it falls to the Islamic Republic of Iran to be the girl who’s hard—actually, impossible—to get.

Tehran’s most recent abrupt rejection came last week, when it reportedly decided that it was not enough for the U.S. to trash four binding Security Council resolutions demanding that Iran cease enriching uranium. Nor was it enough that France and Russia were prepared, with America’s blessing, to convert Iran’s existing stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to a grade of 19.75%, a hair’s breadth shy of the 20% needed for a crude nuclear device.

“The key issue is that Iran does not agree to export its lightly enriched uranium,” an unnamed senior European official told the New York Times. “That’s not a minor detail. That’s the whole point of the deal.”

Perhaps this is merely some tactical posturing by Iran; as of this writing, its foreign minister hasn’t yet categorically ruled a deal out. Then again, it’s probably worth rehashing the history of the West’s nuclear negotiations with Tehran to see where things are likely to go from here.

In October 2003, the European diplomatic troika of France, Germany and Britain extracted a promise from Iran to suspend most of its nuclear work and promise “full transparency” in its dealings with the International Atomic Energy Agency. In exchange, the EU3 offered a menu of commercial and technological incentives. Then-French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin hailed the deal as “a promising start.”

It soon became apparent that Iran had no intention of becoming transparent, as repeated IAEA reports made abundantly clear. As for the idea that Iran could be made to abandon its nuclear ambitions, then-Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi was unequivocal: “We won’t accept any new obligations. Iran has a high technical capability and has to be recognized by the international community as a member of the nuclear club,” he said. “This is an irreversible path.”

So there was the first Iranian “No.” In November 2004, however, Tehran made a second deal with the EU3, this time with an even sweeter package of incentives for Iran. The so-called Paris Agreement lasted a few months, until Iran again spurned the Europeans. “Definitely we can’t stop our nuclear program and won’t stop it,” former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani said in March 2005—a second resounding “No.”

Still, the wheels of diplomacy kept spinning, thanks to a Russian offer to enrich Iran’s uranium for it. The Iranians “studied” the proposal and even reached what an Iranian diplomat called a “basic agreement” with Moscow. But again they turned it down, on the basis that it is “logical that every country be in charge of its own fate regarding energy and not put its future in the hands of another country.” Call that the third “No.”

Four months later, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Iran had successfully enriched uranium. Over the course of the next two years the Security Council approved four successive resolutions demanding that Iran cease enriching and imposing some mild sanctions. Ahmadinejad replied by insisting that all the Security Council resolutions in the world couldn’t do a “damn thing” to stop Iran from developing its nuclear programs. That would be the fourth and clearest “No.”

Yet even as Tehran’s rejections piled up, a view developed that all would be well if only the U.S. would drop the harsh rhetoric and meet with the Iranians face-to-face. So President Obama began making one overture after another to Iran, including a videotaped message praising its “great civilization.” Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei replied that Mr. Obama had “insulted the Islamic Republic of Iran from the first day.”

Now American negotiators are dealing directly with their Iranian counterparts, which is just fine with Ahmadinejad. “As long as this government is in power, it will not retreat one iota on the undeniable rights of the Iranian nation,” he said last week. “A few years ago, they said we had to completely stop all our nuclear activities. Now look where we are today.”

It’s hard to deny the truth of that statement. It’s also hard to deny that for all of Iran’s stalling and cheating, the regime has been crystal clear about where it means to go. It bespeaks a degree of self-respect—the kind that tends to grow stronger the more the opposite party abases itself. Here’s hoping someone in the administration can explain to her colleagues that, in matters of diplomacy no less than in matters of the heart, No means nothing else but No.



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