On Tuesday November 3, a special Israel Navy force intercepted and boarded the cargo ship "Francop". Some 500 tons of weapons, rockets, and missiles were uncovered aboard the vessel, disguised as civilian cargo and hidden among hundreds of other containers.

The weapons originate from Iran, and were intended for the Hizbullah terror organization, for use against Israel. They constitute a harsh violation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1747 and 1701 that strictly forbid Iran from exporting or trading any form of weapons.

– Behind the Headlines: Iranian-exported weapons seized by Israel Navy
– PM Netanyahu on capture of weapons ship
– Press briefing by Israel Navy Deputy Commander Ben-Yehuda
– Iranian arms smuggling – Briefing for diplomats and military attaches
– Photos:  Iranian arms seized on MV Francop 3 Nov 2009

 Israeli naval force intercepts Iranian weapon ship


Weapon carrying ship intercepted by naval force in Ashdod port (Photo: Reuters)

(Communicated by the IDF Spokesperson)

On Tuesday (November 3, 2009) a special naval force detained and boarded a merchant ship carrying the flag of Antigua about 100 miles west of the coast of Israel.

Interception of the Francop (IDF Spokesperson)

Following an initial inspection, which determined that it was carrying a significant amount of weapons disguised as civilian cargo, the weapons-loaded ship was directed to an Israeli port so as to enable further searches on board and a detailed inspection of the cargo.

The IDF Spokesperson said that after the ship was boarded and checked, it was taken into Israel to conduct a detailed inspection of the cargo.

Roughly 500 tons of weapons, rockets, and missiles was uncovered aboard the cargo vessel "Francop" flying an Antiguan flag, which was intercepted and brought to the Ashdod port. The Israel Navy force which intercepted the ship included naval commandos, missile boats, intelligence and explosive experts.

Thirty-six shipping containers with 500 tons of weaponry were found on the ship disguised as civilian cargo, and hidden among hundreds of other containers on board. Israel Naval and Engineering Corps forces are currently unloading the containers and are sorting through the various types of weaponry found aboard.

 Israeli naval force intercepts Iranian weapon ship

107 mm rockets found in the Francop’s cargo (Photo: Reuters)

The naval commando force boarded the vessel and conducted an initial search. The search was conducted in accordance with the usual search protocols as dictated by International Law. Following the initial search and after it became clear that the vessel was carrying weapons, the vessel was directed by the Israel Navy to dock at the Israeli Ashdod Naval base for additional searches and a detailed inspection of the hull’s cargo. It should be emphasized that the captain of the ship agreed to the search. The Israel Navy conducted all activity without any force. Following the necessary inspections of the boat, it is expected to be released.

The weapons found onboard the ship originate from Iran, and were intended for the Hizbullah terror organization, for use against the State of Israel and its citizens. The weapons uncovered at sea last night constitute a harsh violation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1747 and 1701 that strictly forbid Iran from exporting or trading any form of weapons.

This is a well-known Iranian technique, taking advantage of cargo ships flying different flags in order to smuggle containers loaded with large amounts of highly volatile weaponry to terrorist organizations such as Hizbullah.

 Israeli naval force intercepts Iranian weapon ship

The Francop cargo ship, intercepted by the Israel Navy. Inspection of its 
containers, including many marked IRISL (Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping
Lines) revealed munitions and rockets concealed behind ordinary cargo
(Photos: IDF Spokesperson)

When Israel intercepted hundreds of tons of arms shipped by Iran to Hizbullah, it discovered that the heaviest munitions, 122mm Katyusha rockets, were packaged in crates labeled "parts of bulldozer" and "equipment for construction" (see below). 

 Israeli naval force intercepts Iranian weapon ship

Photo: IDF Spokesperson

Among the munitions found in the smuggled arms shipment sent by Iran to the Hizbullah and intercepted at sea by Israel, were Iranian-made M48 120mm Mortar bombs equipped with AZ111A2 fuses  manufactured in January of this year by "Iran Ammunition Industries Group".

 Israeli naval force intercepts Iranian weapon ship

A total of about 9,000 mortar bombs of different types were seized, along with about 2,000 Katyusha artillery rockets,  3,000 recoilless gun shells, 20,000  grenades and over a half million rounds of small arms ammunition.

The overnight operation was authorized by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense of the State of Israel. Commander of the Israel Navy, Maj. Gen. Eliezer Marom, commanded the operation from a forward command cell. The IDF Chief of the General Staff authorized the operation, after the confirmation of intelligence information gathered by the IDF.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the weapons found on board the ship were intended to harm Israel’s cities and towns. Moreover, he hailed the operation congratulating the army the navy, and other security agencies involved on the successful counterterrorist operation.

President Peres stated: "The IDF today successfully intercepted a ship that was apparently en route from Iran to Syria and Hizbullah. Although all the parties deny it, the entire world is today witness to the wide gap between what Syria and Iran say and what they in fact do. The actions of Iran and Syria contradict all international law. Both Iran and Syria are continuously arming the terrorist organizations, first and foremost Hizbullah and Hamas, and are clearly working to undermine peace in the Middle East. The interception of the arms ship is of the highest importance in military terms, but also has political importance. No one can argue with facts. This is an important achievement for the army and for the entire State of Israel."

The Minister of Defense Ehud Barak praised the IDF for their outstanding effort in combating weapon smuggling. "This is another success in the struggle against attempts to smuggle weapons by terrorist organizations who threaten the security of Israel," he said.

The Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai told Army Radio this morning that "We must salute the intelligence community and the IDF for the operation. Rarely is the public aware of the successful operations undertaken." He added that the weapons were destined for Hizbullah and that Katyusha rockets were amongst the weapons in the vessel.

The Iranians continue to act deceptively while blatantly ignoring and violating both International Law and UN Security Council decisions. They relentlessly act under the guise and flags of different countries in order to arm and encourage extremist factions that strive to destabilize the Middle East and other regions. 

It should be emphasized that last night’s operation was part of continuous overt and covert IDF operations on various fronts, both near and far intended to maintain Israel’s security by preventing arms smuggling. IDF forces and the Israel Navy conduct routine intensive operations for security purposes, in order to combat terror and to prevent arms smuggling on various fronts, and the seizure of the ship was carried out as part of this ongoing routine activity.

The largest ship previously intercepted by Navy forces was the Karine A vessel in 2002. The vessel carried tons of weapons from Iran intended to reach the Gaza Strip.

Since the conclusion of the Second Lebanon War, Iran has intensified efforts to establish itself as the leader of the radical axis. These efforts are manifested in ongoing, wide-scale weapon transfers to Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas, as well as financial assistance, training and more. By providing hostile factions with these weapons, Iran substantially enhances their capabilities, improving their arsenals both qualitatively and quantitatively.

The Quds Force, which is affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, is responsible for Iran’s international operations. The force, which answers directly to the Iranian leader, has developed numerous methods of transferring weapons and supplies, relying on aerial, naval and ground channels.

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1. Events in which Iranian attempts to smuggle arms have been uncovered

December 2001 – The Karine A vessel, loaded with weapons in Iran, bound for the Gaza Strip, sailed in the direction of Egypt with the intention of unloading its cargo in Egypt. Small fishing boats were meant to pick up the cargo and deliver it to the Gaza Strip. The ship, loaded with rockets, anti-tank rockets, and light arms, was seized on January 3, 2002 by Israeli naval commandos.

 Israeli naval force intercepts Iranian weapon ship

Weapons taken from the Karin A vessel (Photo: IDF Spokesman)

December 2003 – January 2004 – The Iranian Revolutionary Guard directed an aerial convoy to transfer weapons and supplies to Hizbullah via Syria. The aerial convoys were disguised as humanitarian aid intended for those injured in an earthquake in Bam, a city in southern Iran. The Iranians took advantage of the open airspace by trying to smuggle weapons to Hizbullah while humanitarian aid flights were landing in Iran from all over the world.

May 2007 – An Iranian train carrying arms (mortar shells, light arms, rocket launchers and ammunition) was uncovered in Turkey. The arms were destined for Hizbullah. The Iranians attempted to conceal and disguise the arms in order to avoid suspicion by the Turkish authorities.  

January 2009 – An arms shipment sent by Iran was intercepted and seized in Cyprus after it was found on the Cypriot vessel Monchegorsk which had been leased by the Iranian Irisl shipping company. The cargo was found to include tank, artillery and mortar shells as well as materials to be used for producing rockets.

 Israeli naval force intercepts Iranian weapon ship

Cypriot vessel Monchegorsk (Photo: IDF Spokesman)

October 2009 -The Hansa India, which sailed from Iran flying a German flag was due to unload a cargo of eight containers in Egypt. Following warnings from the German authorities the vessel was not unloaded and continued to Malta where it was seized and found to be carrying bullets and industrial material intended for the production of weapons, seemingly bound for Syria.

 Israeli naval force intercepts Iranian weapon ship

The Hansa India-seized in Malta (Photo: IDF Spokesperson)


2. UN Resolutions limiting Iranian export and arms trade

Excerpts from original text

UN Security Council Resolution 1737 (December 23, 2006):
"Decides that Iran shall not export any of the items in documents S/2006/814 and S/2006/815 and that all Member States shall prohibit the procurement of such items from Iran by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in the territory of Iran."

UN Security Council Resolution 1747 (March 24, 2007):
"Decides that Iran shall not supply, sell or transfer directly or indirectly from its territory or by its nationals or using its flag vessels or aircraft any arms or related material, and that all States shall prohibit the procurement of such items from Iran by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in the territory of Iran."

UN Security Council Resolution 1803 (March 24, 2008)
"Calls upon all States, in accordance with their national legal authorities and legislation and consistent with international law, in particular the law of the sea and relevant international civil aviation agreements, to inspect the cargoes to and from Iran of aircraft and vessels, at their airports and seaports, owned or operated by Iran Air Cargo and Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, provided there are reasonable grounds to believe that the aircraft or vessel is transporting goods prohibited under this resolution or resolution 1737 (2006) or resolutions 1747 (2007);"

UN Security Council Resolution 1835 (September 27, 2008)
"Reaffirms the statement of its President, S/PRST/2006/15, of 29 March, and its resolution 1696 (2006) of 31 July 2006, its resolution 1737 (2006) of 23 December 2006, its resolution 1747 (2007) of 24 March 2007, and its resolution 1803 (2008) of 3 March 2008…"