Israel Accuses Iran of Secret Mission After Rocket Shipment Seized

Israeli officials accused Iran of orchestrating a covert mission, after naval forces on Wednesday seized a ship laden with rockets allegedly bound for militants in the Gaza Strip.

The naval raid on Syrian made M-302 rockets took place in international waters about 100 miles (160 kilometers) off the coast of Sudan, and came after months of painstaking intelligence work.

The arms bust prompted Israel to push for world powers to toughen their stand in negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program.

"Iran has been exposed for what it is. It smiles in the Geneva talks about its own nuclear ambitions, gives soothing words, and as they're doing that, they're shipping these deadly weapons to the world's worst terrorists," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in California during a U.S. visit.

Israel believes that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon, a charge Iran denies.

Iran's announcement Wednesday that it now has missiles with multiple warheads, greatly boosting their destructive power, only heightened Israeli concerns. The semiofficial Fars news agency said the new Qiam missile was specifically built to target U.S. bases in the region. Iran already possesses missiles capable of striking Israel and parts of Europe.

They said the rockets had been flown from Syria to Iran months ago, then shipped from Iran's Bandar Abbas port to Umm Qasr, Iraq, before being loaded onto the KLOS C civilian ship destined for Sudan. From there, Israeli officials said they were to be smuggled overland through Egypt to Gaza — a route that has been used in the past.

"We have been following this shipment for a long time through impressive intelligence work," Israel's military chief, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, told reporters.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. had been in close coordination with Israel throughout the mission.

Image: A missile on an intercepted ship in the Red Sea
A missile that was found on an intercepted ship in the Red Sea, March 5, 2014. Israeli naval forces raided a ship deep in the Red Sea early Wednesday and seized dozens of advanced rockets from Iran destined for Palestinian militants in Gaza, the military said. IDF via AP

-The Associated Press