A lot of Israeli blood was saved by the navy's capture of a
ship loaded with deadly weapons, Defense Minister Benjamin
Ben-Eliezer said Monday, adding that the attempt at
infiltration was proof of bad faith by the Palestinians.
Earlier the Israeli navy intercepted a Lebanese ship laden
with barrels full of weapons headed for the Gaza Strip.
Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said the discovery and
seizure of the arms made it clear to the world that the
direction the Palestinians are taking in their fight with
Israel does not cross paths with peace and makes a mockery
of all the agreements and promises they have made.
He also said that the variety of weaponry and quantities
sent in mark an escalation in the Palestinian confrontation.
The weapons were a veritable arsenal and military analysts
said that the amount was enough to change the strategic
balance between Israeli and Palestinian forces.
The new wooden vessel, with a crew of four Lebanese
smugglers on board, was picked up by IDF spotter aircraft on
After a brief investigation and heightened suspicion after
seeing the deck packed with barrels, reinforcements were
dispatched and patrol boats surrounded the vessel. The
ship's crew surrendered without any resistance.
Ben-Eliezer praised the alertness of the officers and crews
of the gunships that intercepted the Lebanese craft outside
Israel's territorial waters--off the coast between Haifa and
Tel Aviv--as it was bound for the Gaza Strip.
The weapons on the boat were more sophisticated than those
used by the Palestinians in the conflict so far, and
included arms such as rockets and mortars that the Oslo
accords forbid the Palestinian Authority from having
The 107 millimeter Katyusha rockets found on board--which do
not even require launchers to be fired--have a range of over
8 kilometers. If fired from the edge of the Gaza Strip, for
instance, they could easily reach the outskirts of Ashkelon.
The Strella rocket is effective against targets at altitudes
of from 25-3,500 meters and at ranges of 50-5,000 meters.
It was Strella missiles in the hands of Afghani
fundamentalist fighters that caused the Russians serious
problems and numerous casualties during the Afghanistan
Had any of these weapons reached PA-controlled areas in
Judea and Samaria it would have meant that many towns and
cities inside the Green Line would be in firing range,
including Tel Aviv. Military and civilian aircraft would
also have been put at grave risk.
"I can only hope that PA leaders will understand the
significance and ramifications of using such weapons. I
reiterate that all we desire is that they lay down their
arms and return to the negotiating table," Ben-Eliezer
When asked whether this attempt at infiltration indicated
there had been previous arms shipments to the Palestinians,
Navy Commander Yedidya Ya'ari answered that the very
increase in patrols was indicative of the assumption on the
part of the IDF that there would be intensified attempts to
bring in weapons by sea.
He added that, while he could not say for sure whether other
shipments had got through, the navy's assessment is that
this is not the case, though Ben-Eliezer said the Israeli
army must work under the assumption that the PA already has
these kinds of weapons.
Ya'ari said some of the weapons, all of which were carefully
packaged in waterproof wrappings, had been packed into
barrels which were roped together. The aim was apparently to
drop the barrels into the sea at a designated point off the
Gaza coast where they would be later picked up by
It is apparently not the first time that this kind of method
has been used, as evidenced by the previous discovery of
arms in barrels in the same area.
He said that the packing of the weapons was done in a
professional manner by people obviously used to dealing with
arms and that the crew of the ship also knew very well how
to smuggle the arsenal to Gaza.
The boat had departed from Tripoli and followed a route that
kept it in international waters off the Israeli coast. Its
destination was the Gaza Strip.
The weapons, originally manufactured in Russia, China,
Hungary, and elsewhere, were acquired by Ahmed Jibril's
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General
Palestinian officials denied that the PA was responsible for
the attempt, saying that large numbers of weapons from
various places, including from Israel, have been delivered
The disclosure came following a day of widespread clashes
between Israeli troops and armed Palestinians, including the
IDF shelling of the Khan Yunis refugee camp in Gaza that
killed a Palestinian infant. The girl's mother, grandmother
and three siblings were wounded in Monday's shelling.
The IDF said it was responding to Palestinian mortar attacks
on Jewish settlements in Gaza.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon apologized for the death of five-
month-old Iman Hije, and said the IDF is under instruction
to prevent civilian casualties.
There were reports that Sharon planned to send his son,
Omri, for an urgent meeting with Palestinian Authority
leader Yasser Arafat to try to calm tensions. The High Court
ruled Sunday that Sharon's son, who is not a civil servant,
could act as an informal liaison to the Palestinians on
condition that each mission receives prior approval from the
In the Knesset, the prime minister told legislators at the
opening of the summer session that the conflict with the
Palestinians is a prolonged, complicated one. He reiterated
that there would be no resumption of political dialogue
until the violence and terrorism stops.
Appealing directly to the Palestinian people, Sharon said,
"All of your achievements were gotten through negotiations.
All of the tragedies through violence."