Most of the weapons found aboard the M/V Victoria en route to the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip were of Iranian manufacture, including mortar shells and anti-ship C-704 missiles.

Issued on: 18/03/2011 Type: Article



An UNRWA school in the Gaza Strip (electronicintifada, August 5, 2010)

Overview

1. On the morning of March 15, 2011, 200 miles (108 nautical miles) west of Israel's coast, an IDF navy force inspected the cargo ship M/V Victoria. The ship was sailing from the Syrian port of Latakia to the Turkish port of Mersin, and from there would continue to the Egyptian port of Alexandria.

2. The Victoria was carrying containers holding some 50 tons of weapons destined for the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip. The weapons were in three containers, concealed behind bales of cotton and sacks of lentils. There were 60 mm and 120 mm 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.

3. It was the first time anti-ship missiles were captured, destined for the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip. They would have endangered Israeli military and civilian vessels as well as Israeli strategic targets in the Ashdod-Ashqelon region at a range of the missiles is 35 kilometers (19 nautical miles). They were accompanied by instruction manuals written in Farsi. On the covers were the emblems of Iran and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, proof of the source of the weapons and of the Revolutionary Guards' Al-Quds Force's involvement in the attempted smuggling with the collaboration of Syria and the Palestinian terrorist organizations.

4. Additionally, on March 9, 2011, the British announced they had seized a significant shipment of Iranian arms in Afghanistan; and the Egyptians stopped an arms shipment from Sudan, which in all probability was intended for terrorist groups in Egypt or the Gaza Strip.

5. Shipping weapons aboard the Victoria is a gross violation of the sanctions imposed on Iran by the UN Security council. It is also a violation of civilian naval security and transportation regulations governing the shipping of dangerous materials.

Display at the port of Ashdod of the weapons found aboard the M/V Victoria
Display at the port of Ashdod of the weapons found aboard the M/V Victoria
(IDF Spokesman, March 16, 2011).

Weapons hidden behind bales of cotton and sacks of lentils
Weapons hidden behind bales of cotton and sacks of lentils

Iranian involvement in the attempted smuggling

6. Providing weapons for terrorist organizations, opposition forces, subversive elements and foreign countries is an important factor in Iranian strategy, which seeks to establish and lead an extremist camp, promote terrorism and subversion, and achieve regional hegemony in the focal areas of the Middle East (among them Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain) and abroad (among them  East and West Africa, Latin America, Central Asia).

7. It is another example of Iran's strategic endeavor to smuggle weapons to their  destinations by sea, air and over land. The Iranians continually learn lessons from interceptions of their arms shipments. The smuggling system is supervised and directed by the Iranian leadership and carried out by the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards, Iran's main tool for exporting its Islamic revolution.1 They work in close collaboration with Syria's security system and terrorist groups acting as Iranian proxies and promoting Iranian goals from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip to Iraq and Afghanistan.

8. One of Iran's favorite routes for smuggling weapons is by sea. Recently, following sanctions imposed on its large shipping companies (HDS, IRISL), it began using international  companies (especially European) without informing them of the nature of the cargos. To that end, Iran forms shell corporations and counterfeits documents which list the cargos as innocent merchandise (milk powder, polyethylene, pencils, cotton, lentils, rocks for construction, etc.). Two examples were Iran's recent attempts to smuggle arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon in August 2010 and to groups in Gambia, West Africa, in July 2010.

9. An initial comparison of the affair of the Victoria and Iran's previous smuggling affairs indicates the following;

1) Iran invests great efforts in smuggling weapons to the terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip (especially Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad) to support the reconstruction and upgrading of their military infrastructures. Special emphasis is placed on supplying them with advanced rocket and missile capabilities as strategic threats to Israel (Fajr 5 rockets which can reach the center of Israel, and anti-ship missiles which are a threat to Israeli vessels and strategic targets north of the Gaza Strip).

2) Syria, Iran's main partner in the radical camp, has an important role in the Iranian arms smuggling network. Syria's geopolitical position makes it an important relay station for the weapons en route to various destinations (Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip). In our assessment, the Syrian leadership and lower levels are involved in shipping the arms to their final destinations. For shipping by sea the port of Latakia is particularly important, the port from which the M/V Victoria set sail and to which the M/V Finland (which carried arms from Iran to Hezbollah via Italy) was supposed to sail.

3) International (including European) shipping companies are used by Iran to transport weapons, without their receiving genuine information about the contents of the cargos their ships are carrying (although following the previous exposures of weapons they should be aware of the potential danger of doing business with Iran). For example, the M/V Victoria was operated by the French CMA-CGM, the third largest shipping company in the world, as was the M/V Everest, which transported arms from Iran to Gambia. The M/V Finland, which transported arms from Iran to Hezbollah via Italy was owned by a Greek company and operated by the Italian MSC. In every instance the weapons were hidden by innocent merchandise.

4) The timing of the M/V Victoria smuggling attempt coincided with the internal uprisings in the Arab countries, including Egypt,  which is an important route for smuggling arms into the Gaza Strip. It can be assumed that Iran and Syria are exploiting the current situation to arm the terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip. The announcement issued by Egypt of the March 13 capture of five vehicles carrying weapons from Sudan, apparently destined for the Gaza Strip, may be another indication of Iranian-Syrian effort. Assuming that to be the case, in our assessment Iran and its allies in the radical camp, using fraud and concealment, will continue smuggling weapons.

Weapons found aboard the M/V Victoria

Overview

10. The three containers found aboard the M/V Victoria held approximately fifty tons of weapons. According to the initial count, they were the following:

1) 230 120 mm mortar shells manufactured in Iran accompanied by a range table.

2) 2,270 M-61 60 mm mortar shells accompanied by a range table. According to the table the type of fuse involved was the AZ111-A2, developed and manufactured by Iran.

3) Six C-704 anti-ship missiles manufactured in Iran, two naval radars and operating stations for the anti-ship missiles.

4) 66,960 7.62 caliber bullets for Kalashnikov assault rifles.

5) Instruction manuals in Farsi and range cards for operating the systems.

Weapons found aboard the ship (IDF Spokesman, March 16, 2011).

Lower left: Iranian defense minister Vahidi reviewing C-704 anti-ship missiles at the factory in Iran (Fars News Agency, Iran, March 7, 2011).
Weapons found aboard the ship (IDF Spokesman, March 16, 2011). Lower left: Iranian defense minister Vahidi reviewing C-704 anti-ship missiles at the factory in Iran (Fars News Agency, Iran, March 7, 2011).

11. Prominent among the weapons were six C-704 anti-ship missiles, manufactured in Iran based on Chinese technology. The missiles were stamped "Nasser," their Iranian name. They use a radar homing system and have a range of 35 kilometers (20 nautical miles). They missiles are light and easy to fire. Their possession by the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip would have endangered Israeli naval and civilian vessels, as well as ships arriving at the port of Ashdod and strategic targets in the area.

12. The missiles were accompanied by instruction manuals written in Farsi. The emblems of Iran and the Revolutionary Guards appeared (on the front cover). According to the range cards, the fuses for the 60 mm mortar shells are AZ111-A2, developed in accordance with the requirements of the Iranian army and manufactured in Iran (Jane's Ammunition Handbook). The missiles were accompanied by accessories such as traverse, elevation, monitoring and control systems.

Technical specifications of the weapons seized 

C-704 anti-ship missiles

Guidance system: "Fire and forget" radar navigation
Country of manufacture: China/Iran
Range: 35 kilometers (20 nautical miles)
Overall weight: 360 kilograms, or 793.6 pounds
Warhead weight: 128 kilograms, or 282.2 pounds
Velocity: Slightly less than speed of sound

 

C-704 anti-ship missile
C-704 anti-ship missile
(fresh.co.il website, March 16, 2011).

Anti-ship missiles found aboard the ship (IDF Spokesman, March 16, 2011).
Anti-ship missiles found aboard the ship (IDF Spokesman, March 16, 2011).

The C-704 (NASR 1) anti-ship missiles found aboard the ship
The C-704 (NASR 1)  anti-ship missiles found aboard the ship  
(IDF Spokesman, March 16, 2011).

Radar monitoring and control stations for the anti-ship missiles

Radar monitoring and control stations on board the ship (IDF Spokesman, March 16, 2011).
Radar monitoring and control stations on board the ship
(IDF Spokesman, March 16, 2011).

60 mm M-61 mortar shells

60 mm mortar shell
60 mm mortar shell

Diameter: 60 mm
Maximum range: 2.56 kilometers, or 1.6 miles
Type of explosive: TNT

Boxes of mortar shells found aboard the ship.
Boxes of mortar shells found aboard the ship.

Range table for 60 mm mortar shells

Range table for 60 mm mortar shells

120 mm mortar shells

Diameter: 120 mm

Weight: 16.7 kilograms, or 36.8 pounds

Filling: 2.15, or 4.74 pounds of Comp B (a mixture of TNT and RDX)

Range: 10 kilometers, or 6.2 miles

120 mm mortar shells
Left: Crates of mortar shells. Right: 120 mm mortar shells.

Range table for 120 mm mortar shells

Range table for 120 mm mortar shells

7.62 caliber ammunition for Kalashnikov assault rifles

Ammunition for Kalashnikov assault rifles, 7.62 caliber, found on board the ship.

Ammunition for Kalashnikov assault rifles, 7.62 caliber, found on board the ship.
Ammunition for Kalashnikov assault rifles, 7.62 caliber, found on board the ship.

The M/V Victoria  and its route

13. The M/V Victoria  belongs to the German company Peter Döhle Schiffahrts-KG and is operated by the French shipping company CMA-CGM. It set sail from the Syrian port of Latakia and its final destination was the Egyptian port of Alexandria. It had a stopover at the south Turkey port of Mersin

M/V Victoria
Left: M/V Victoria (maintraffic.com archive). Right: The Victoria led to the port of Ashdod
(IDF Spokesman's website, March 15, 2011).

14. The ship was constructed to transport containers and was built in 2004. It is owned by Peter Döhle Schiffahrts-KG, Hamburg, which has been in operation since 1956. It is operated by the French shipping company CMA-CGM and flies the Liberian flag.

15. The French CMA-CGM is the third largest company shipping cargo in the world and the largest in France. It owns 396 ships and sails 170 different routes and has 650 agencies and offices around the globe. Its directors are Rudolf Saadé (born in 1970), son of the founder, Jacques Saadé (born in Beirut in 1937), and Farid Salem (born in Beirut in 1939 (CMA-CGM website).

16. The M/V Victoria  was not the first CMA-CGM vessel exploited by Iran to smuggle arms. In October 2010 the Nigerian security forces exposed a cargo of 13 containers of weapons aboard the M/V Everest, which sailed from Iran to the Nigerian port of Apapa in July and was en route to Gambia. The ship belonged to the Iranian Behineh Trading Company, apparently connected to a Quds Force operative (who was later arrested in Nigeria) and was operated by the French CMA-CGM, flying the flag of the Marshall Islands.

Appendix


Initial responses to the capture of the arms ship

1. Senior Iranian leaders strongly denied the country's involvement in shipping the weapons:2

1) Ahmad Vahidi, the Iranian defense minister, stated that the recent events in the Arab countries caused the "super powers" to "fabricate" news to ease the pressure exerted on them (IRNA News Agency, March 16, 2011).

2) Attallah Salehi, commander of the Iranian army, denied that Iran was the source of the weapons found aboard that ship or that they were destined for the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip. He accused "the regime occupying Jerusalem" [i.e., Israel] of concocting and spreading lies. He also said he hoped the "Zionist regime drowns in the Mediterranean Sea" after "the fall of the Egyptian Pharaoh" (IRNA News Agency, March 16, 2011).

3) The Turkish paper Hürriyet was informative. It reported that despite the fact that the ship had passed through the Turkish port of Mersin, the Israeli authorities noted that Turkey was not linked to the affair (Hürriyet, March 17, 2011).

2. On the night of March 15 the Turkish authorities ordered a cargo plane flying from Iran to Syria and passing over Turkish air space to land at the southeastern airfield of Diyarbakir. The plane was escorted to its landing by two Turkish fighter planes. Turkish army forces inspected the plane (Hürriyet, March 16, 2011). After the inspection the plane was permitted to continue on the official claims that nothing suspicious had been found (Dogan News Agency, March 16, 2011).

The Iranian plane at the airport in southeastern Turkey (cihan website, March 16, 2011).
The Iranian plane at the airport in southeastern Turkey (cihan website, March 16, 2011).

3. On March 15, 2011, Egypt announced that two days previously it had intercepted five vehicles carrying weapons from Sudan, apparently destined for the Gaza Strip. They had been intercepted on the Egyptian-Sudanese border and contained a large quantity of mortar shells, hand grenades, rifles and explosives.

4. So far Hamas spokesmen have made only short announcements, quoted by the Israeli media, stating that the weapons were not destined for Hamas (Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post, March 17, 2011).



1 For further information see the March 15, 2011  ITIC bulletin, " In recent months two more Iranian attempts to ship weapons were exposed... " at http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/pdf/iran_e106.pdf

2 Iran also denied involvement in the previously exposed attempts to smuggle weapons, even when incontrovertible proof was found.

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