Over the weekend there were multiple press reports stating Israeli intelligence satellites saw the Iranians loading what appeared to be rockets and other military related items onto a ship in the port of Bandar Abbas. An article in the Sunday Times quoted Israeli intelligence sources as believing the cargo contained Fajr-5 rockets and possibly parts of the Shahab-3 ballistic missile. According to the article the Israelis believe Fajr-5s will be smuggled into Gaza from Sudan and then through Sinai through tunnels. The Fajr-5 is the 45-mile range rocket that allowed Hamas to hit targets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem during the most recent crisis. The sources were concerned the ballistic missiles would be set up in Sudan and used to attack Israel from there.
Of course if you have an Iranian ballistic missile in Sudan, there is the possibility the Iranians could put nuclear warheads on them at some point in time. It sounds like a James Bond movie but there is always a chance that scenario could play out, however remote. Conventional warheads would make more sense. Fox News quoted one Israeli source as stating:
“Regardless of the ceasefire agreement, we will attack and destroy any shipment of arms to Gaza once we have spotted it.”
On 21 November the Iranian News Agency FARS published an article quoting Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani stating:
“We declare proudly that we have supported the Palestinian nation and Hamas and we have the honor to declare that we will stand beside the Palestinian people in the hardest and most difficult conditions ...We are proud that our aid to the Palestinian people included financial and military aspects."
This is the equivalent of high stakes trash talk and chest pounding. First off, over the years so much has been leaked about the U.S. intelligence collection capability that the if the Israeli intelligence satellites did see the Iranians loading rockets and missiles onboard a cargo ship it was because the Iranians wanted them too. The Iranians may or may not suspect the Israelis have that capability but they know for sure the U.S. does. The U.S. doesn’t speak much about current capability but if you go to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) website you can look at old satellite pictures taken from 1959 to 1980 to your hearts content. I’m sure the Iranian thinking would be if the U.S. detected the cargo ship event, then they would pass the information on to their “close allies” the Israelis.
Second it has been known for some time that Iran has been providing weapons to Hamas and other groups. I think a case can be built that the recent Israeli actions in Gaza were aimed at Iran as much as Hamas. On 22 October a factory in Khartoum, Sudan suspected of producing arms with the assistance of Iran was blown up. The Sudanese blamed the Israelis and called it a terrorist attacks. The Israelis have not officially claimed responsibility.
A few days after the attack two Iranian navy ships made a port call in Sudan. The Sudanese said the visit was not related to the “terrorist” attack on their factory. The Iranian press stated:
“.… the visit is aimed at conveying the message of peace and friendship to the neighboring countries and ensuring security for transportation and shipping against sea piracy.”
What to look for in the coming days. The Israelis will try to interdict the suspected weapons carrying cargo ship. There is some concern on the part of the Israelis that the Iranian navy may escort the ship. According to the Iranians, the two ships that visited Sudan have returned home. That remains to be seen but it will be interesting to see if the Iranians respond militarily or allow the Israelis to sink the ship and then claim no weapons were onboard.