Israel seizes an Iranian arms shipment to Hamas/ The Kerry Plan
Mar 7, 2014
March 7, 2013
Number 03/13 #02
On Wednesday, the Israeli Navy stopped a merchant vessel, the Klos-C, in the Red Sea. It was carrying advanced Syrian-made long-range surface to surface missiles allegedly bound for Gaza and sent there by Iran (all probably unknown to the crew). The IDF has released a detailed video explaining the origins and previous movements of the missiles, and another showing their discovery by Israeli soldiers in shipping containers supposedly carrying cement.
This Update deals with the significance of this weapons smuggling. (More detailed information on the seizure, as well as its historical context, is here.) It also contains a new backgrounder on the current situation of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s proposed “Framework agreement” for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
First up is noted Israeli military correspondent Ron Ben Yishai, who says the Iranians went to a great deal of trouble and expense to get these rockets to Gaza (or possibly Sinai) because they are of a size to evade Israel’s two main missile defence systems, Iron Dome and the Arrow. Ben Yishai argues that while this Israeli raid reflected both a great intelligence success story and a good illustration of Iran’s ongoing illegal policy of supporting terror groups, this lesson was likely diluted by the international media’s focus on the Crimea crisis. For his full discussion, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, more details on how Israel planned, prepared and carried out the raid on the Klos-C is here.
Next up, US analyst and former senior official Elliot Abrams explores more thoroughly what this arms shipment tells us about Iranian intentions, as the world attempts to negotiate a final nuclear deal. Abrams argues that the lesson of the current shipment is that, if this is what the Iranians are doing as they attempt to negotiate with the West, all the talk about how new President Rouhani is a moderate who we must strengthen should give way to a recognition that he and his colleagues are actually “representatives of a brutal regime” who “take orders from its Supreme Leader” and are attempting to ” destabilize the entire region.” For the rest of what Abrams has to say, CLICK HERE.
Finally, BICOM (the British-Israel Communication and Research Centre) has produced a handy guide to US Secretary of State John Kerry’s hopes to create a “Framework agreement” for Israeli-Palestinian peace. The backgrounder explains the likely contents of the “Framework agreement” with respect to key issues such as borders, security, Jerusalem, settlements, mutual recognition and refugees, and explores the political considerations likely to guide both Israeli and Palestinian political leaders. To read it, CLICK HERE. Another good backgrounder, outlining ten fundamental facts about the peace process, comes from Israeli legal expert and former diplomat Alan Baker.
Readers may also be interested in:
- International law specialist Eugene Kontorovich on how the Klos-C seizure legally vindicates Israel’s blockade of Gaza.
- Reports that John Kerry has admitted the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks will not achieve their original aims by the end of April and must be extended. Meanwhile, any extension is reportedly being rejected by the Palestinians, and indeed Palestinian officials are claiming that PA President Mahmoud Abbas “exploded with rage” at Kerry over his latest proposals for a framework deal.
- Prior to Netanyahu’s recent visit to Washington, US President Obama had some strong words for him in an interview with journalist Jeffrey Goldberg. Analysis of Obama’s words comes from John Podhoretz, David Horovitz, Shmuel Rosner, Jonathan Tobin, Elliot Abrams, Jeff Jacoby, and the Jerusalem Post.
- Meanwhile, reports say Kerry and the State Department were less than pleased with Obama’s tone. Furthermore, it appears that, despite the President’s remarks beforehand, the meeting between Obama and Netanyahu was friendly and not particularly difficult or confrontational.
- Two pieces on how, for all the talk about it, the BDS movement is actually achieving nothing significant in its efforts to create a boycott of Israel – from David Harsanyi and David Rosenberg.
- Isi Leibler writes about the inadvisability of Jewish organisations providing platforms to anti-Zionist extremists.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Distinguished AIJAC guest Ehud Yaari discusses the Syrian situation, Egypt and the Sinai, and Israeli-Palestinian talks.
- Ahron Shapiro on myths and facts about current levels of construction within West Bank settlements.
- Sharyn Mittelman on the key speeches and developments during the recent AIPAC conference in Washington.
- Michael Thurin on the media’s one-sided depiction of the realities of life in Hebron.
- Or Avi-Guy on the difficult situation of the Ukrainian Jewish community in the wake of recent events there.
Ron Ben Yishai
Analysis: Iranian arms smuggling was likely aimed at preparing ground for response to attack on Tehran’s nuclear facilities. Question remains whether weapons were meant to reach Gaza groups or Sinai terrorists. Admirable intelligence move spared Israel the answer.
The takeover of the Klos-C ship exposed and foiled a strategic Iranian move which, had it been successful, would have been worthy of the definition “tiebreaker.” The move was aimed at creating a situation in which, during an active conflict, the IDF missile and rocket interception system would be neutralized or would at least become inefficient.
First of all, because according to foreign reports the Iron Dome system is incapable – or finds it difficult – to intercept heavy and long-range rockets like the Syrian-made M-302 that were captured. These medium-range rockets of up to 250 kilometers (155 miles) with a warhead weighing over 140 kilograms (310 pounds) are supposed to be intercepted by another system, Magic Wand (also called David’s Sling), which is still being developed in the United States and Israel.
This critical system, which will be the “second layer” in the multi-layer interception system the defense establishment is planning, will not become operational before 2016. So had the rockets reached Gaza, they would have allowed the Iranian’s allies bordering on Israel to go around the Iron Dome system from the top, go around the Arrow system from the bottom, and explode unhindered in population concentrations in Israel – mainly in the Tel Aviv Metropolitan Area and Haifa Bay.
During the Second Lebanon War, the Syrian-planned and manufactured 302-milimeter M-302 rockets proved how lethal and reliable they are. They are not accurate, but their heavy warhead and the reliability of the rocket motor make them a cheap “statistical weapon” which allows targeting large civilian communities and causing them heavy losses and damages.
Software improvements have been made recently in the Iron Dome system, allowing it to also deal with heavier rockets than the short-range and relatively light Grad. During Operation Pillar of Defense, Iron Dome intercepted medium rockets of the Fajr-5 or M-75 models, made independently by Palestinians, which have a range of more than 70 kilometers (44 miles).
But the limited number of Iron Dome batteries the IDF operates will make it very difficult to overpower a large amount of heavy and really long-range rockets like the M-202 or M-302, which will arrive from several directions at the same time, for example from Lebanon and Gaza, or from Lebanon, Gaza and Syria.
The initiative of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force was aimed first and foremost at serving Iran, rather than Hamas, Hezbollah or Bashar Assad. The Quds Force organized a very complicated logistic operation here, which cost tens of millions of dollars and was carried out secretly while risking an exposure of the violation of UN sanctions by Iran and the Syrian regime.
Hezbollah and the Syrians have had thousands of heavy M-302 and M-202 rockets for a long time. The decision to fly a large amount of these heavy rockets from Syria to Iran in order to equip Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in Gaza with them, and likely other groups as well, points to strategic planning.
Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani would not have entered such an adventure if it were not a supreme strategic Iranian interest. For example, in case Iran decides to initiate an overall high-trajectory offensive on Israel through its messengers: Hezbollah, Syria and the Gazans.
When will Iran decide on such a move?
It’s reasonable to assume that this is a response scenario to an IDF and/or American attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. In such a case, it’s completely reasonable to estimate that the Iranians would demand that the Syrians and Hezbollah, as well as the Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Gaza and likely also terrorists in Sinai, deal Israel a lethal blow of rockets and missiles on its entire territory
The Iranians are aware that the situation changed when Israel, with American aid, built a multi-layer rocket interception system. They are concerned that this system will eventually affect their ability to deal Israel a high-trajectory strategic blow, and are therefore preparing a system which will largely neutralize the abilities of Israel’s active defense system for at least two years and maybe more – until the Magic Wand system becomes operational.
Further proof that this is a supreme strategic Iranian interest and planning can be found in the fact that Suleimani and his men from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, as well as Bashar Assad’s men, were willing to hold their nose and send a delivery of expensive strategic weapons to their bitter enemy, the Sunni Hamas organization, which betrayed the Syrian regime and turned its back on it during its rough time.
It’s possible that the delivery was only intended for the Islamic Jihad, which is now operating as Iran’s main branch in the Palestinian camp, but there is not a single chance that Hamas would have let such a cargo enter the Strip or even Sinai without an early agreement with the Iranians. It’s possible that the distressed Hamas even received financial or other aid from the Iranians in return for its participation in the operation.
Headed to Sinai peninsula?
Nonetheless, the Iranian operation raises two critical questions. First of all, it’s not at all clear how the Iranians planned to transfer such a large number of long-range and heavy rockets by land from Sudan through Egypt to Gaza. It’s enough to remember the fact that the Egyptian army is tightly monitoring the smuggling tunnels from Sinai and the Strip and systematically destroying them. How did the Iranians and Palestinians plan to transfer such a shipment to Gaza under the Egyptians’ nose? The answer may be that the plan was to transfer the rockets to their destination in “drizzles,” over a long period of time.
Another question is how the Gazans planned to launch these large rockets from the Strip. After all, they are easily noticeable from the air when being prepared for launching, and likely beforehand too, and they can be accurately bombed from the air, sea and land, even if they are activated from underground launching holes prepared for them.
The obvious conclusion in light of these two questions is that a large part of the rockets on the arms ship – perhaps even all of them – were meant to reach Sinai and be activated from there. It’s possible that the Gazans (Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees) were supposed to leave the Strip for Sinai and build a hidden launching system there in an isolated area which the Egyptian army finds it difficult to reach and control, for example in Jabal Halal (height provides the M-302 with extra range).
The IDF does not enter Sinai and Israel Air Force planes don’t fly in the peninsula’s airspace so as not to violate the Egyptian sovereignty. The military regime in Egypt is known to be very sensitive about its national honor, and so an M-302 launching system in Sinai is ideal.
It’s even possible that radical Sunni organization Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda, would have joined the move initiate by its bitter enemies, the Shiite Iranians. The rockets would have been transferred bit by bit, under the Egyptian army’s nose, to the area where the hidden launching system would have been located – and the rest would have been written in the pages of history.
Missed opportunity in US media
In light of the strategic intentions and effort put in by the Iranians, one can say that the exposure and seizure of the Karine A vessel in the height of the second intifada (2002) is the only equivalent of the takeover of Klos-C in March 2014. This is an admirable achievement of the intelligence community.
Like in any successful intelligence-operational campaign, the main accomplishment belong to those who exposed the initial information, the lead, realized that they had something unusual in their hands and decided to share it with others in the community and set a complex move in motion, in which the Mossad showed an ability which vitally complemented what was achieved by the optical and electronic tracking sensors operated by the Intelligence Directorate.
The Intelligence Directorate also built the overall picture, and its people not only estimates correctly “what is going on here” but were also able to provide operational intelligence which allowed the heads of the IDF’s operational system, led by the chief of staff, to present an optimal thwarting plane.
It’s important to stress that the detailed and accurate real-time intelligence information provided the military and political leaders with something worth a fortune: The freedom of choice. They were able to decide which of the thwarting options would provide optimal results with minimum casualties and minimum political, public opinion, legal and media damages.
As is customary in such cases, the Operations Directorate and division commanders place a number of options on the defense minister, prime minister and chief of staff’s table. For example, bombing from the air or raiding from the sea or other types of operations which were looked into and found to be reliable in the past.
Thanks to the detailed intelligence information, Chief of Staff Benny Gantz was able to recommend to Minister Ya’alon and Prime Minister Netanyahu an outline of operation which is both in line with the international maritime law, does not involve any special risk to human life and provides several desirable outcomes: Not just thwarting the Iranian plans and their ramifications, but also a nice public opinion-PR achievement, and mainly in good timing, with Netanyahu in the US, less than 24 hours after he warned President Obama in a conversation in his office against the fraudulent and deceitful methods used by the Iranians.
It’s a shame, however, that the American media is mostly busy right now with the Ukrainian affair and the administration budget for next year, which Obama presented to the Congress and the public on Tuesday.
The American media, like the media in the entire world, has a limited attention span and it is mainly occupied with domestic issues.
So Israel missed an opportunity to illustrate to the American public that the Klos-C, sent in an Iranian violation of UN Security Council resolutions, is just an allegory of what the ayatollahs and Revolutionary Guards are doing in Fordo and in other nuclear facilities “for peaceful purposes.”
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by Elliott Abrams
Council on Foreign Relations, March 6, 2014
The capture of a ship on its way to Gaza and carrying rockets supplied by Iran has made the news. The cargo includes dozens of M302 rockets with ranges of over 100 miles, which would bring most of Israel into range.
The incident is reminiscent of the capture a ship called the Karine A in January 2002, also carrying Iranian arms to Gaza. The recipient was Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, significant then because Arafat was at the time telling officials of the new Bush administration that he was committed to peace and had totally abandoned violence and terror. The key issue was the recipient, not the donor, and the incident helped the Bush administration make up its mind about Arafat–especially when he lied to U.S. officials about his own involvement. There is a direct line from the Karine A to Bush’s speech of June 24, 2002 breaking permanently with Arafat and telling Palestinians they would have American support for a state only when they had new leadership. Arafat had to go.
This time, in a kind of “Karine B” case, we have Iranian arms going to Gaza again, and it is a reminder that whatever peacemaking Secretary Kerry is undertaking with Palestinian authorities in Ramallah, Hamas remains in charge in Gaza and is dedicated to violence. But the larger issue this time is the donor rather than the recipient.
While we talk of outreach to Iran and unclenched fists, Iran continues to be the largest state sponsor of terrorism. During the nuclear negotiations the Obama administration seems to think it must be on its best behavior lest the regime in Tehran become offended and walk away from the table. So, the administration stops Congress from enacting additional sanctions–even sanctions never to be imposed unless negotiations fail. News reports say that there was administration pressure on Israel to stop its covert action program inside Iran. And we hear endless discussions of how Rouhani is a moderate and we have to help the moderates in their struggle against hard liners inside the regime.
But during this period, while the administration says we must carefully watch our conduct lest we offend Iran, Iran ships advanced missiles to Hamas in Gaza. Iran ships arms to opposition groups Bahrain. The regime in Iran continues a brutal campaign of repression at home. Whatever our approach, theirs is to use this period of negotiations to destabilize the entire region and crush all internal opposition.
It’s a reminder, once again, of just who is across the negotiating table. These are not “moderates,” in essence folks just like the EU and U.S. negotiators but dressed a bit oddly in our eyes. They are the representatives of a brutal regime and they take orders from its Supreme Leader. And while our representatives and his talk about how to achieve a balanced and fair deal, their government is bending every effort to creating chaos in the entire region.
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- At a meeting early in Washington on 3 March, President Barak Obama discussed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a framework for peace talks being drawn up by US Secretary of State John Kerry. A similar meeting is expected between Obama and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas within weeks.
- Kerry is in advanced stages of producing a framework document – in dialogue with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators – to establish guidelines for carrying negotiations beyond the current deadline at the end of April.
- The framework will present a US view of how gaps can be closed on the core issues including borders, security, settlements, Jerusalem, refugees and mutual recognition.
- The US aims to secure agreement to the framework as a guideline for negotiating a detailed permanent status agreement within a new time frame of up to one year. They hope to launch it before the last scheduled release of Palestinian prisoners at the end of March.
- Accepting the framework and agreeing to further talks will create significant political challenges on both sides. The two sides would be allowed to express reservations, but only to specify them in the context of closed door discussions.
What is the Kerry Plan?
The Kerry Plan is a set of principles being drafted by a US State Department team, in dialogue with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, which aims to provide a framework for on-going negotiations to reach a detailed final status agreement. The current round of talks is due to expire at the end of April, and the US hope the framework will be the basis for extending the talks for anything up to a year.
US Secretary of State John Kerry secured agreement from Israelis and Palestinians for nine months of negotiations at the end of July 2013. Israel agreed to release, over the course of the nine months, 104 Palestinian prisoners serving long sentences for terror offenses. In return, the Palestinians agreed not to walk away from talks and not to make more unilateral efforts to secure recognition in UN or other international bodies.
After several months of talks with little progress, Kerry and his team decided to draft a framework to provide guidelines on how to bridge the gaps between the parties. According to sources close to the talks, when Kerry launches the framework, the two sides will be expected to publicly accept it as a basis for continuing the process. They will be allowed to express their reservations, but only to specify them in the context of closed door negotiations.
What will be in the framework?
The closest existing model for the framework is the Clinton Parameters, presented to both parties by President Clinton in December 2000. It is expected to be a short statement of no more than a few pages, which will outline how each final status issue will be addressed.
Borders: The framework is likely to reflect the Palestinian demand that 1967 borders be the basis for a territorial agreement, but also recognise that major settlement blocks should remain part of Israel under a land swap deal. It is expected to leave open the question of how much land should be exchanged, and exactly which settlement blocks should be retained by Israel.
Security: A central demand of Netanyahu’s is that Israel should maintain a long-term military presence on the West Bank-Jordanian border, whereas President Abbas has said he would accept an Israeli presence only for five years, and then a NATO security force.
The framework is expected to accept Israel’s security concerns, but to frame any Israeli deployment in the context of a broader security regime, and to shorten in principle that deployment as far as possible, without specifying a time period. The US has already presented proposals to minimise the scope and duration of any Israeli deployment by compensating with high tech monitoring solutions, though these proposals have not been warmly received on either side. In a recent speech at Davos Kerry spoke of the need for “security arrangements for Israel that leave it more secure, not less” but also “a full, phased, final withdrawal of the Israeli army.” Israel also demands that the Palestinian state should be demilitarised, whereas the Palestinians want a state with limited arms.
Settlements: Netanyahu is against forcibly removing settlers and his office has suggested they should have a choice to stay within the borders of a future Palestinian under Palestinian rule. There have also been reports of proposals for Israel to lease land on which outlying settlements are located from the Palestinians. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has rejected the idea of any Jewish settlements remaining, arguing that they were built illegally. It remains unclear how the US will bridge these positions, but when Kerry was asked about the fate of settlers by an Israeli interviewer in February, he answered, “I’m not sure [the settler] will have to leave his home.”
Jerusalem: The framework will likely recognise the Palestinian demand to have its capital in East Jerusalem. However, it seems unlikely that it will be as specific as the Clinton Parameters – which proposed sharing the Old City and sovereignty over the ultra-sensitive Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif – since this would be too much for the Israeli government to accept at this stage. However Kerry frames Jerusalem, negotiators will have a complex challenge to reach a formula ideologically acceptable to both sides and practical.
Refugees: Palestinians want refugees and their descendants to have the right to choose from a series of resettlement and compensation options, similar to the formula outlined in the Clinton Parameters, which includes admission to Israel. Israel is opposed to Palestinians having the “right of return” to Israel’s borders. Whilst the Clinton Parameters outlined the options and allowed Israel to decide how many Palestinians it would admit, it is not clear that Kerry will be quite so specific. In Davos he spoke only about a “just and agreed” resolution to the refugee issue, which is the language used in the Arab Peace Initiative. In any event there will likely be reference to the final agreement bringing an end to all claims. This is an Israeli demand aimed at closing the file on claims relating to the 1948 war, from which the refugee issue stems. There are indications from US officials that compensation for Jewish refugees who fled persecution in Arab countries during the same period will also be addressed.
Mutual recognition and Jewish state: Netanyahu’s most persistent demand is that the Palestinians “recognise the national rights of the Jewish people in the State of Israel,” which many in Israel see as a prerequisite for lasting peace. Recognition of Jewish national rights runs deeply against the Palestinian national narrative, and Abbas has been very resistant. This issue also has implications for the refugee question, since acknowledgment that Israel is the national home of the Jewish people would undermine Palestinian claims to a right of “right of return” to Israel. The framework will likely reflect Netanyahu’s demand in some form. Kerry talked at Davos of “mutual recognition of the nation-state of the Palestinian people and the nation-state of the Jewish people.”
Other issues: The framework will also likely address some other sensitive issues, including the Palestinian demand for the release of all Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
How are the parties likely to respond?
The US aim is to secure agreement for another fixed period of negotiations up to a year, ideally before the fourth and final scheduled release of Palestinian prisoners at the end of March. The two sides would be allowed to express reservations to the framework, but only to specify them in the context of closed door discussions. Nonetheless, both sides are working hard to move the text as close as possible to their own positions.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has to determine how to manage the presentation of this framework in a way that will not cause the right wing of his coalition to quit, in particular Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party and the right wing of his own Likud party. Netanyahu will want to continue the talks with the Palestinians, but will likely stress that the framework is an American position, which Israel is not formally accepting, to avoid bringing the issue to a contentious cabinet vote.
President Abbas will have to be able to point to enough substance in the framework to justify extending talks, and to defer any return to unilateral efforts at securing recognition in international bodies. The Palestinian public are divided over whether they support peace talks. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, is firmly against negotiations.
In order to agree to hold off unilateral actions, the Palestinians will likely demand further practical concessions from Israel, as they did in demanding the release of prisoners in return for engaging in talks in July. In particular they are likely to renew demands for a freeze to settlement construction. Meeting such a demand will pose another threat to the stability of Netanyahu’s coalition.
To get each side to sign up, despite the political complications, the US may offer private assurances or incentives. Ultimately, neither side wants to get the blame for collapsing the process, which will provide Kerry with some leverage over both parties.