Earlier this morning Israeli commandos boarded an Iranian vessel in the Red Sea carrying an arms shipment destined for Gaza and the Sinai. According to Reuters, the Panamanian-flagged cargo vessel Klos C was boarded in international waters without resistance from its 17-strong crew, who may have been unaware of the cargo they were carrying. Israeli Defense Forces spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner told reporters that the ship was carrying dozens of M302 rockets. "The M302 in its most advanced model,” said Lerner, “can strike over 100 miles, and if they would have reached Gaza, ultimately that would have meant millions of Israelis under threat.”
Those weapons may have been meant to target Egyptians as well as Israelis. Egypt’s military-backed government is effectively at war with both Sinai-based and Gaza-based Islamist organizations, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Hamas, say Egyptian security officials, is backing the Sinai-based groups in their attacks on Egyptian soldiers and policemen. And accordingly Egyptian security officials explain that now they have their own Muslim Brotherhood under control after deposing President Mohamed Morsi, they will turn their attention to Gaza and Sinai. However, the IDF raid this morning shows that this is likely more empty boast than reality.
An IDF map and video posted at TheTower.org show the route that the weapons took: they were shipped from Damascus International Airport several months ago to Tehran, where they were dispatched to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, the typical starting point for Iran’s Red Sea smuggling route. Here the weapons were loaded on to the Klos C, which embarked on its long trip with Port Sudan as its final destination. Here the weapons are typically assembled by Iranian technicians and, as The Weekly Standard has previously reported, are transported by Sudanese smugglers “across the Nubian Desert to the Egyptian border, all the way through Egypt’s Eastern Desert along the Red Sea, and through the Suez Canal deep into the Sinai Peninsula” where they are transferred through tunnels into Hamas’s hands in Gaza.
That is to say, even if Egyptian strongman General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is eager to go after Hamas and assorted militants in the Sinai peninsula, his military and security forces are incapable of stopping these weapons shipments from traversing the entirety of Egypt, from its southern border to its northern one. The IDF knows that Egypt is incapable and incompetent, which is why it interdicted the weapons at sea instead of leaving the security of Israeli citizens in Sisi’s hands.
This morning’s raid raises many interesting questions. First is that it’s not clear what the shipment means regarding Iran’s relations with the Gaza-based organizations. Does it mean that Iran and Hamas have patched up their differences after a falling out over the Syrian civil war in which Hamas could not be seen supporting the Assad regime, slaughtering fellow Islamists and Sunnis in general. Or does it mean that Tehran is eager to see its long-standing client Islamic Jihad take a more active role? Perhaps it just means that the Iranians are flooding Gaza and the Sinai and don’t care who gets the weapons so long as they’re useful in the war against Israel as well as the campaign against Sisi’s Egypt.
Perhaps the most relevant fact illustrated by this morning’s operation is that the IDF is now providing security for three Arab regimes. Without an IDF presence in the West Bank, both the Palestinian Authority and Jordan would be extremely vulnerable to Hamas and assorted Salafist-Jihadist groups, which in Gaza and Sinai similarly threatens the stability of Egypt. The IDF raid underscores the incompetence of the Egyptian army and security services, as well as the political vulnerability of an Egyptian strongman who has chosen to make war on Hamas and Sinai insurgents—a war he cannot win or perhaps even survive without the assistance of Israeli intelligence and special operations.
Israeli officials explain that coordination with Sisi’s army and security services is better than ever before—which we now understand simply means that Sisi is allowing Israel to protect his northern border. The question is: Once that fact becomes clear, how will Sisi explain it to Egypt, a nation of 80 million riven by hatred of Israel and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories? Sisi’s adversaries, among them a Muslim Brotherhood that he has yet to destroy as promised, will doubtless put the information to their own use.