Covert Attempts to Smuggle Weapons by HamasWednesday 27/07/2016

Israel withdrew from Gaza in August 2005, in order to alleviate tensions with Palestinian authorities in the Middle East. Since this peacemaking effort, Israel has faced extreme hostilities from Palestinian terrorist organizations in Gaza; rockets have been fired from Gaza to Israeli neighborhoods and cities, especially in the south. Moreover, terrorist organizations, like Hamas, as well as their sponsors, have been smuggling weapons disguised among civilian goods via the Mediterranean Sea to Gaza. Their main objective through the use of these weapons is to promote violence, attack Israeli civilians and neighborhoods, and begin military hostilities with the Israeli Defense Forces.

In response to these heightened intrusions, Israel declared a naval blockade on the Gaza strip on January 6, 2009 under the Notice to Mariners No. 1/2009. The chief of Israel’s naval forces, Eliezer Marom, stated the exigencies of having such a blockade in order to ensure the safety of the state of Israel and its citizens, “There is huge potential in smuggling weapons by sea, both in because of the simplicity of route and the large quantities it enables to smuggle. If we allow free entry of ships into the Gaza Strip, weapons will come in droves to terrorist operatives in the Gaza Strip.” 

According to the Israeli “Turkel Report,” the blockade was established “for military-security reasons, which focused on preventing weapons, ammunition, military supplies, terrorists and money from entering the Gaza Strip, and the need to prevent the departure of terrorists, vessels filled with explosives and other maritime borne threats from Gaza.”

These smuggling attempts have commenced as early as 2001 and have lasted until current day. Written below are several of the numerous smuggling attempts that were capable of being intercepted by the Israeli Defense Forces and prevented from reaching terrorist groups in Gaza and causing harm to Israeli civilians.

One such incident occurred on May 7, 2001 on the vessel named Santorini which was intercepted during its voyage from Lebanon to the Gaza strip. In the ship contained forty tons of weapons that included  Strela anti-aircraft missiles, mortars, rifles and guns, grenades, mines and explosive material, anti-tank RPG-7 missile-launchers, and artillery rockets.

Less than a year later, on January 3, 2002, the Karin-A was intercepted in the Red Sea. Before its sail to Gaza, the ship was sent to Sudan and Yemen to carry civilian goods, which would be used to disguise what was really carried aboard. The Karin-A held 80 submersible containers holding 50 tons of weapons, including RPG-7 rockets, RPG-18 anti-tank rocket launchers, Iranian-made anti-tank and antipersonnel mines, 2200 kilograms of high explosive demolition blocks, Sagger anti-tank launchers and missiles, as well as rifles, machine guns, AK-47s, 735 hand grenades, 700,000 rounds of small ammunition, and diving equipment.

On November 3, 2009 the Franco was found carrying 36 shipping containers holding 500 tons of weapons, rockets, and missiles aboard the cargo vessel, which was later discovered to be sent from Iran. The weapons were disguised as civilian goods and hidden from view among hundreds of other containers on board.

50 tons of weapons were found aboard the Victoria on March 15, 2011. These weapons were hidden behind regular civilian goods. The 50 tons consisted of 60mm and 120mm mortar shells, C-704 anti-ship missiles, and ammunition for Kalashnikov assault rifles. Most of the weapons, including the C-704 missiles, were manufactured in Iran.

Israeli Naval Forces discovered and seized an Iranian ship in the Red Sea on March 5, 2014. Dangerous strategic arms were spotted among the cargo, including rockets. The weaponry was destined to reach terror organizations in the Gaza Strip via Sudan.

The Israeli Navy, Israel Security Agency, in addition to the Israeli Police arrested Salim Jamal Hassan Na’aman in April 2016, for he possessed vessels that did not remain within designated fishing zones. Na’aman stated that he was involved in smuggling arms used for the manufacturing of rockets. The rockets were to be given to Hamas and other terrorist organizations within Gaza. He revealed Hamas’ plans to use fishermen to disguise terror activity and revealed that fisherman supported smuggling efforts between Gaza Strip and Egypt.

ship memo 2

A blockade is defined as “a belligerent operation to prevent vessels and/or aircraft of all nations, enemy as well as neutral, from entering or exiting specified ports, airfields, or coastal areas belonging to, occupied by, or under the control of enemy nation.” It constitutes one of the measures that can be taken under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which safeguards the right of collective self-defense when an armed attack occurs.  Under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, Israel is entitled to take all the reasonable steps in order to protect its population from the protracted armed attacks carried on by Hamas and the other terrorist organizations operating in Gaza. As outlined in Section II, the naval blockade is not only legally justified but also complies with all the requirements set by the relevant rules of international law.  

In the UN “Palmer Report,” the conflict between Israel and the terrorist organizations operating in Gaza is clearly characterized as an armed conflict: “Israel has faced and continues to face a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza.  Rockets, missiles and mortar bombs have been launched from Gaza towards Israel since 2001 […] the uncertain legal status of Gaza under international law cannot mean that Israel has no right to self-defense against armed attacks directed toward its territory.” The UN Report then highlights how in fact there have been various incidents in which ships carrying weapons were intercepted by the Israeli authorities on their way to Gaza. It consequently concludes that Israel was definitely entitled to take reasonable steps to prevent the influx of weapons and that a blockade in those circumstances is a legitimate exercise of the right of self-defense.

Not only has the naval blockade constituted a legitimate measure adopted for defending the Israeli territory and population, but also it was (and continues to be) properly enforced in accordance with the relevant rules of international law, including the “San Remo Manual on International Law applicable to Armed Conflict at Sea.”

Article by Moriah Khalili and Beniamino Parenzo

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