Behind the Headlines: The Victoria arms-smuggling incident


Part of the weapons cache found aboard the Victoria cargo ship (Photo: IDF Spokesperson)

On 15 March 2011, Israeli Naval forces boarded and searched the Liberian flagged vessel "Victoria", after receiving the necessary consent. The boarding was based upon confirmed reports that the vessel was carrying illicit arms destined for terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip. The ship was off the coast of Israel, in the open waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

In a preliminary search by the boarding party, the vessel was found to be carrying significant amounts of arms and military equipment. According to the ship’s document, and the account of the crew, the ship initially departed from Latakia port in Syria, and then proceeded to the Port of Mersin in Turkey. The ship was bound for Egypt. It has been determined that Turkey had no connection to the arms smuggling attempt.

The need to prevent arms smuggling: This attempt at smuggling large amounts of weaponry aboard the Victoria provides additional proof of Israel’s imperative need to examine all goods entering the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Israel cannot allow weapons and military equipment to reach the hands of terrorists, who will use them against its civilian population.

Israel acted in self-defense: The illegal smuggling of arms to the Gaza Strip poses a direct and imminent threat to the safety and security of the State of Israel and its citizens, who continue to find themselves under the unceasing attack of rocket and mortar fire originating from Gaza.

Preliminary evidence indicates that the weapons aboard the ship originated in Iran, which strives to arm the Gaza Strip. Under Hamas rule, the Gaza Strip has become part of the Iranian-Syrian-Hamas axis.

Smuggling arms to terrorists is illegal: Such transfer of weaponry to terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip constitutes a blatant violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1860(2009), which calls upon member states to intensify efforts to "prevent illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition" to the Gaza Strip (para. 6), as well as a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1373(2001), which, inter alia, calls upon all states to refrain from the provision of any form of support to terrorist organizations and to eliminate the supply of weapons to such groups. Israel is also looking into the possibility of additional violations of other relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

An act of deception: It should be noted that nothing in the freight manifest of the Victoria revealed the true nature of the content of the ship’s containers, in violation of the relevant provisions of the International Maritime Organization’s Conventions and professional standards, including the Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code.

One of many smuggling attempts: There have been a number of previous instances (including incidents involving the Santorini, Abu Hassan, the Karine A, the Hansa India, the Monchegorsk, the Francop and Everest cargo vessels) in which otherwise innocent transnational commercial shipping was abused by States that sponsor terrorism, including Iran, Syria and Lebanon, in order to facilitate the illegal trafficking of arms to terrorist organizations in the region.