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Weapons boat

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U.S. helped Israel track weapons ship

Bill Gertz

Published 1/15/2002

U.S. intelligence agencies helped Israel track
down a Palestinian ship that tried to smuggle a large
supply of weapons obtained from Iran, according to
U.S. intelligence officials.
The intelligence assistance was considered vital in
Israeli military efforts to pinpoint the exact vessel
carrying the arms, which was captured in a daring
commando raid earlier this month, said officials
familiar with the effort.
"Our assistance was crucial," said one U.S.
intelligence official.
The ship, the Karine A, was raided by Israeli
commandos in the Red Sea on Jan. 3. A large cache
of Iranian weapons was found, including small arms,
mortars, rockets, rocket-propelled grenades and
Many of the weapons were identified as coming
from Iranian production facilities, the intelligence
officials said.
According to the officials, Israel approached the
CIA last month with a request for help in locating a
vessel it believed was carrying arms destined for the
Palestinian Authority.
Israeli intelligence at one point thought they had
found the vessel in the Persian Gulf port of Dubai,
but that ship was not the one later captured with the
U.S. intelligence agencies, using various high-tech
intelligence-gathering means, were able to identify the
Karine A after it loaded the weapons near Iran's
Kish Island, some 300 miles north of the major
Iranian naval port of Bandar Abbas.
The discovery of the Palestinian weapons ship is
a major success for U.S. military intelligence, which
has sought to improve its monitoring of weapons
shipments by sea since the early 1990s. In 1992, the
Navy lost track of a North Korean ship, the Dae
Hung Ho, as it delivered a shipment of missile parts
to Iran.
The official Iranian radio, Voice of the Islamic
Republic of Iran, said last week that the weapon
shipment was a "false propaganda claim" of the
Israeli government.
Kish Island is a resort area about 11 miles from
the Iranian coast. The Islamic government in Tehran
has declared it an economic free zone.
The Israeli government has said the weapons
shipment reveals new links between the Iranian
government and the Palestinian Authority. Previously,
Iranian government support to terrorists in the region
had been limited to groups such as Hamas and
Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
"This shows there has been a strategic shift in the
actions of the Iranian regime," said Kenneth
Timmerman, a private analyst who specializes in
Iranian military affairs.
"Previously, Iran had been standoffish to Arafat.
Now, by delivering such a large amount of weapons,
including new types of weapons, they are tilting
toward Arafat in this effort to sabotage the peace
process," Mr. Timmerman said in an interview.
According to the Israeli government, among the
weapons found were 211 anti-tank mines, 735 hand
grenades and 62 122mm Katyusha rockets, which
have a range of 12 miles.
The ship also carried large numbers of AK-47
assault rifles and blocks of high-powered plastic
The weapons were packed in 80 submersible
containers designed to float a few feet below the
surface of the water. Officials said the plan for the
weapons containers was to drop them overboard
and smuggle them into the Gaza Strip from the
The captain of the ship, Omar Akawi, told
reporters in Israel earlier this month that he was
delivering the weapons to the Palestinian Authority
and was in radio contact with Abdel Mughrabi, a
weapons procurement official for the Palestinian
Mr. Akawi, a naval adviser to the Palestinian
Authority, said he expected to receive orders
canceling the arms smuggling operation after Dec.
16, when Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
announced in a speech that he was halting military
operations by the Palestinians. No order was issued.
Mr. Akawi told reporters he was instructed to
pick up the weapons in the Persian Gulf "near the
Iranian border," according to an interview on Israeli
A smaller boat then arrived, and the weapons
were loaded on the ship. The Karine A captain said
he recognized one of the men loading the weapons
as a member of the Iranian-backed terrorist group
The ship was seized by the Israelis in the Red
Sea, about 300 miles from the Israeli port of Elat at
the northern end of the Gulf of Aqaba, and taken to
Its cargo was estimated to be worth $10 million.
In an interview with The Washington Times last
week, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell did not
indicate that he was aware of the intelligence
Mr. Powell said the Palestinian-Iranian arms
smuggling is a "deeply disturbing problem."
"By the way, just as a former soldier, let me
compliment the Israelis on a neat piece of work,"
said Mr. Powell, a former chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff.
"It is deeply troubling to see the kinds of weapons
that were being introduced into this volatile area,"
Mr. Powell said in the Jan. 8 interview. "And I think
there is a heavy burden on Chairman Arafat and the
Palestinian Authority to explain what they know
about this and get to the bottom of this, because this
is an escalation."
Mr. Powell said the United States had seen
"some evidence and information" about the shipment
and was awaiting more from a delegation of Israeli
government officials who briefed U.S. policy-makers
on Jan. 9.
"But this kind of action is condemnable, and I do
condemn it," Mr. Powell said. "It's a new element
that complicates an already complicated situation."

Copyright 2001 News World Communications, Inc. All rights

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