Israel Resource Review 6th January, 2002


How the Israeli Media Covered the Capture of a PA Ammo ship

In a pre-dawn raid on Thursday morning, January 3, 2002, IDF naval commando troops seized control of the Karine-A vessel without a fight and forced it to sail 500 kilometers north to Eilat. The ship, which Israeli officials say was owned by the PA and manned partly by PA officials, including a colonel in the Palestinian Authroity navy, was laden with at least 50 tons of weapons and ammunition. The media in Israel report that notwithstanding Palestinian denials and some American equivocations, the weapons and ship were bought by the Palestinian Authority and were earmarked for Palestinian use . . . . Here is what the Israeli media looked like on Sunday, January 6th, 2002, as the story of the ship capture unfolded

Arafat Caught Red Handed

Yedioth Ahronoth (p. 1) by Nahum Barnea -- The capture of the Palestinian weapons ship was not just a successful, James Bond-like military operation. It is a landmark in the history of the conflict. If the Entebbe operation extended the boundaries of the war on terror, the Red Sea operation created a new, sharper identification of the coalition of terror.

It casts Arafat in an embarrassing light. He is not only the great kisser from Ramallah. He is also the gunsmith [this is a play on words in Hebrew that cannot be translated. [The roots of the Hebrew words "kiss" and "weapon" are identical (]

It casts the Iranian government in an even more embarrassing light. Some American administration officials have been nurturing the Iranian dream ever since September 11. Iran, which was Bin Laden's declared enemy and which, contrary to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, did not feed al-Qaida's terror cells, was supposed to be the United States' greatest ally in the Moslem world.

All that was under the assumption that the Iranian regime stopped exporting terror. In George W. Bush's United States, that is an inviolable condition.

The Americans knew that the Iranians continued to maintain their covert involvement in Middle Eastern terror: they operate Hizbullah and urge Islamic Jihad and Hamas to resume the terror attacks. But covert operations can either be denied or repressed. You can't swallow 50 tons of weapons, including Katyusha rockets. If the Iranian government is behind this shipment it is, according to the standards set by Bush, like the Taliban regime.

That means that the Americans have to reexamine their priorities. It may be that the eradication of the Iranian nuclear option is more urgent that the eradication of Saddam Hussein's regime. And it means that the Americans have no one to rely on in the Moslem world except Turkey.

The weapons on the boat apparently were earmarked for both the Palestinian Authority and Hizbullah. That division only worsens the Palestinian Authority's situation. Anyone who forges an alliance of terror with Hizbullah can't say in the same breath that he aspires to reach a peace agreement with Israel. Arafat was caught with his pants down.

The Israeli governments have long hoped for a Palestinian "Altalena" ever since the Oslo accords were signed. Altalena was the weapons ship that the Etzel brought to Israel in 1948. Ben-Gurion interpreted the ship's arrival as an attempted rebellion and ordered that it be sunk. The hope was that Arafat would fight the rejectionist organizations until they were eradicated, just like Ben-Gurion fought the Etzel.

But Arafat had other aspirations. He doesn't sink Altalenas. He brings them in.

One can say, of course, that the secret acquisition of weapons is the legitimate act of a people that strives to achieve its independence, and of an authority that is helpless in the face of Israel's military edge. One can also say that the Palestinians did not buy the weapons with the intention of using them, but only to deter Israel. Israel too, when it was in its first years of existence, spent most of its money on secret acquisitions that in many cases were in violation of its international commitments.

The difference is that Israel stood then with its back to the sea, against the Arab invader. Arafat has just declared, under American pressure, the end of the Intifada. He said that he is intent on peace, on a cease-fire, on a hudna.

(Yesterday, some of Sharon's confidants reflected sarcastically on how the expression on President Katzav's face would have looked had the ship been discovered an hour after he made his hudna with Arafat in Ramallah. Would the president have relocated the festive ceremony to the ship's bow, like in the movie Titanic?)

The capture of the ship has made Sharon a happy man. That is understandable. Not only because of the stunning military operation, which has bolstered national morale and pride, but mostly because of its diplomatic implications. Sharon is very fortunate that Arafat, the serial gunsmith, has remained relevant. What would he do without him?

A Perfect Operation

Ma'ariv (p. 1) by Yaakov Erez -- [Yaakov Erez is the editor-in-chief of Ma'ariv.]

The successful raid carried out by navy forces demonstrated to the Palestinians and the entire world the IDF's surprising response capabilities, which are not limited just to Israel or to sites where fighting is in progress.

Five hundred kilometers from Israel's shores, in the open expanses of the Red Sea, at 4:00 a.m. Thursday morning, navy units raided a merchant ship on its way to the Suez Canal. The forces knew how to locate the ship accurately, and succeeded in taking it over with a combined raid from the air and the sea, with no casualties. In its hold, they discovered a large shipment of explosives and weaponry which was sent by the Palestinians with Iranian help in order to escalate the fighting in the territories and begin a new chapter in the war against Israel.

Uncovering the cargo aboard the Karine-A was the primary goal of the military raid, but the significance of the operation, which was carried out flawlessly, was that it demonstrated impressive operational capabilities by the IDF, far from Israeli territory, while using intelligence methods in an awe-inspiring fashion.

The IDF has already made long-range raids whose stories have become movie scripts. But on Thursday, in early January 2002, the Israeli Navy operated in a surprising and respect-arousing way. For doing so, the IDF, the Navy and its commanders deserve much gratitude from the people of Israel.

The Karine-A was located several days ago, after embarking from Yemen and heading for the Suez Canal. Surveillance and pursuit from a distance were implemented, and most of that time, the ship was under Israeli eyes. When it was 500 kilometers from Eilat, Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz decided to raid the ship. Despite the great distance from Eilat and the uncertainty of everything going as planned, the chief of staff decided this was the right time to carry out the raid. Navy commandos had been dispatched to the target two days earlier. The uncertainty was great. No one knew how many terrorists were on board and whether the raiding forces would encounter armed resistance.

At the time of the raid, the senior commanding officers, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, Navy Commander Maj. Gen. Yedidya Yaari and IAF Commander Maj. Gen. Dan Halutz, sat in a Boeing 707, flying over the region of the raid. The plane was the forward command post of the forces. The rear command post was under the command of Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, and included the deputy commanders of the Navy and the Air Force, as well as intelligence personnel. They followed the developments from Israel.

The process of taking over the ship was carried out in a surprise fashion, which has not been revealed thus far. Within a minute, the ship's control room, which was manned by two crew members, was in the hands of Israeli Navy commandos.

The ship was quickly searched and the large cargo the Karine-A was carrying was discovered. Five Palestinians were discovered on board, men belonging to Arafat's naval branch, and they were under the command of the deputy commander of the naval branch at Gaza who served as ship's captain. Once the combing of the ship began, a great deal of varied weaponry was discovered, all of Iranian make. The quantity and diversity of the weapons prove beyond a doubt that the Palestinian Authority, which had purchased the ship and the weaponry from Iran, planned to smuggle the cargo into the Gaza Strip in order to create a new and significant threat to Israel. The launching devices included Katyushas and many mortar launchers.

There is no doubt that the success of the operation cut short or halted, for now, a new military move by Arafat. It seems that for the Palestinian leader, words and actions are never in accord. On the very day that the Karine-A was crossing the Bab el-Mindab Straits, Arafat sent an invitation to President Katzav to speak before the Palestinian parliament in Ramallah. On the one hand is the supposedly diplomatic aspect, including the agreements with Zinni, and on the other hand the military aspect: practical preparations for the next and more serious stage of the Intifada. For the time being, this step was cut short. All thanks to a bold and complex operation carried out flawlessly by IDF forces, 500 kilometers from a home port, with the chief of staff selecting the method of operation which had all the chances of success. During the operation itself, he emphasized avoiding hitches and casualties, due to the distance form the home port, and the combined operation of naval and air forces.

The takeover of the Karine-A was one of the most impressive operations the IDF has carried out. It can easily be dubbed "The Navy's Operation Entebbe."

Arafat Wants a "Balance of Deterrence"

Ma'ariv (p. 9) by Oded Granot (news analysis) -- One need not leap to far-reaching conclusions in view of the presence of a Hizbullah activist aboard the Karine-A, aside from the simple fact that Hizbullah has long been involved in smuggling weapons to the Palestinian Authority. Hizbullah was also connected to previous shipments, which made their way to Gaza thought the Mediterranean Sea, until that route was blocked by the Israeli Navy.

And one should also not get too excited by leaks by anonymous American officials who told The New York Times yesterday that Hizbullah, not the PA, was actually the final destination of the Karine-A.

Because Hizbullah, with its incredible arsenal in southern Lebanon, with its arsenal of long-range Katyushas which can reach Haifa and Hadera, does not need 60mm mortars, sniper rifles, RPG launchers, Sagger missiles, and such a large number of guns that even by last night they had not all been removed from the ship's hold in Eilat.

Nor does Hizbullah need the Iranians to cram all this cargo into 83 watertight pipes with specially marked floats, which the Gaza fishermen could easily identify and pull from the water.

Nor does Hizbullah need the Palestinians to purchase the ship for it and sail it for them, using Palestinian naval officers.

And there is a further long list of clear-cut and unequivocal evidence which point clearly to the Palestinian Authority as the organization that ordered the shipment and Iran as the main organization which provided the shipment, with Hizbullah, as a front-line branch of Iran trying to get a foothold in the territories, helping out and being involved.

The frightening shipment loaded onto the Karine-A was specifically tailored for the Palestinian Authority to help it prevent future IDF raids into Area A territories, on a tactical level; and to build a "balance of deterrence" against Israel, on a strategic level, so that Israel would be forced in the future to limit its military responses, as it is sometimes forced to do with Hizbullah in Lebanon.

The timing of the embarrassing discovery, with General Zinni in the area, was no less a blow to the Palestinian Authority as was the effect of the bombing terror attack in Jerusalem and Haifa during his previous visit. PA spokesmen vacillated this weekend between complete denials of any connection to the ship, and delaying a response, by saying something along the lines of: we'll look into it and check it out.

But the Americans, and of course Israel, expect answers. In view of the clear-cut facts, Arafat may try to come clear of this affair by blaming bodies subordinate to him which "acted without his knowledge." Security establishment officials insist there is no way that Arafat could not have known.

Security Officials: "Arafat Knew and Approved"

Yedioth Ahronoth (p. 11) by Amir Rappaport et al. -- Very senior Palestinian Authority officials who are very close to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat were responsible for planning the large-scale smuggling operation via the Karine-A ship. A senior security official said that the chairman was personally involved in the details of the operation and approved its various stages, including the tens of millions of dollars to finance it.

Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz said yesterday, "The connection between the ship's crew and the Palestinian Authority is unequivocal and clear. The ship belongs to the Palestinian Authority, and senior officials are involved in the [act of] smuggling."

Based on the preliminary questioning of the crew members on board the ship, the following details have become clear: The ship was purchased by the Palestinian Authority, was manned by a Palestinian Authority crew, and was supposed to turn the weapons over to the Palestinian police near the coast of Gaza.

The person responsible for financing the operation was Fuad Shubaki, who is in charge of budget allocations for he Palestinian security troops. He was responsible of the purchase of the weapons and the ship and for the transfer of funds.

The operation's "operations officer" was Adel Mughrabi, chief procurement officer in the Palestinian Authority's weapons procurement department. Mughrabi was responsible for concealing the identity of the ship and buying the plane tickets for the Palestinian crew, which flew to its port of departure.

Mughrabi received the assistance of the commander of the Palestinian Navy, Jumaa Ghali (Abu Zaki) and his deputy, Fathi Razem, in his talks with Iran and Hizbullah.

The ship's captain was Omar Akawi, a colonel in the Palestinian navy. He commanded another 12 crew members, three of whom are officers in the Palestinian navy.

Further proof of the link between the ship and the Palestinian Authority was released on Thursday, once the IDF Naval Commando troops had completed their seizure of the ship. PLO officials who knew about the smuggling operation but not about the seizure, including the PLO's ambassador to Cairo, waited for the ship on the Egyptian coast, where it was supposed to anchor.

The chief of staff said: "The Palestinian Authority is infected with terror from head to toe. Had the weapons reached the hands of the terror organizations, this could have dramatically endangered the lives of the state's citizens. This operation saved human lives at an incalculable scope."

Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said: "The capture of the weapons ship attests to the fact that the Palestinian Authority is leading a move the entire meaning of which is war. When the weapons and means of destruction are presented to the public everyone will understand what would have happened had the shipment reached its destination. This seizure has saved the lives of tens of thousands of innocent civilians." [ . . . ]

Karine-A: Facts and Figures

Today IDF to Present Weapons Seized

Yedioth Ahronoth (p. 5) by Amir Rappaport -- The unloading of the weapons from the Karine A continued throughout the course of the entire Sabbath. The troops began unloading the boat on Friday, a short time after the ship arrived in the port of Eilat.

IDF soldiers removed from one container after another the weapons that were stored in the hull of the ship, but the fatigue of the soldiers and the fear that the weapons might explode as a result of a technical malfunction or a booby-trap that had been placed resulted in a very slow and careful unloading process. A preliminary examination indicates that the ship held at least 50 tons of ammunition.

This afternoon Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is to take part in a press conference that is to be held on board the seized ship. The IDF is expected to present at the press conference the large quantities of weapons that were seized in the operation.

Fifty Times More Weapons Than in the Santorini

Yedioth Ahronoth (p. 2) by Amir Kravitz -- Karine-A was not the first ship attempting to smuggle weapons for the Palestinians that Israeli security forces seized.

Some eight months ago troops, seized the yacht Santorini, which also held large quantities of weapons that were on their way to Gaza. The Santorini was picked up by an IAF reconnaissance plane as soon as it left its port in Tripoli, Lebanon. IDF Navy boats allowed it to draw near the coast of Haifa, just a few dozen miles off the coast, where it was stopped.

The Santorini was brought into Haifa, where large quantities of weapons were unloaded. In that instance too, an attempt was made to smuggle in Katyusha rockets to threaten major Israeli cities inside the Green Line. The Palestinians claimed then, too, that the weapons were not meant for them.

Yesterday, security officials said they believed the number of weapons on board the Karine-A was 50 times greater than the amount that the Santorini transported.

The Naval Commando's "Entebbe"

Yedioth Ahronoth (p. 1) by Alex Fishman -- People in Israel have been waiting for a long time for some sort of "Entebbe," something that would bolster national pride, that would pick our morale up off the floorboards. On Thursday we got a lot more than that.

The "Noah's Ark" operation may be less flashy than the Entebbe operation, less titillating to the world, and its real heroes -- the naval commando troops -- will remain anonymous. But this operation, the quick and elegant part, gave life to the people who live in this country. And that is not just a cliche.

Until now, only 58 out of the 83 containers that the Karine-A was carrying have been opened. Inside have been discovered, among other things, 40 122mm Katyusha rockets that have a 20-kilometer range, 200 107mm Katyusha rockets that have an 8-kilometer range, and 500 120mm mortar shells. One does not have to be a great strategist to understand what that means for the residents of the coastal plain, Afula, Hadera, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Netivot and dozens of other communities. Had these weapons gotten to the Palestinian Authority, most of the residents of Israel would have been turned into hostages. The PA would have had Israel by the throat, similar to the balance of terror that Hizbullah created along the northern border.

Furthermore, the first Katyusha rocket that would have been fired at an Israeli city would have ended in war. An almost wall-to-wall consensus would have been formed around that kind of Katyusha: There is no choice, we have to re-conquer the West Bank. Those same people in the Palestinian Authority who toyed with the idea of Katyusha rockets knew very well that they were conjuring up a war, but now they are trying to cover their tracks. The Palestinian version -- which some American administration officials are inclined to accept for now -- is that the equipment was earmarked for Hizbullah, and the Palestinians simply were providing them with the transport services.

There are also efforts being made to obscure the weapons that were seized. They tried to blot out the registration numbers on the weapons. What would be Hizbullah's sudden interest in concealing the fact that it receives its weapons from Iran? And if all these weapons were to be used only by Hizbullah, why were they wrapped in special floating containers? After all, they could be unloaded at leisure from the ship in any Lebanese port.

In the press conference he held on Friday, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz was adamant: The weapons were purchased by the Palestinian Authority and were for the Palestinian Authority. The evidence in the hands of the Israeli security forces clearly demonstrates the triangle: Iran-Hizbullah-Palestinian Authority. There is no disputing the fact the weapons are Iranian, and based on the evidence that has been released for publication it is clear that the same PA officials who were behind smuggling in the Santorini weapons ship that was caught by the Navy in May 2001 are also behind the Karine-A. At the center of this smuggling effort by the PA stands a well-known figure from the PA's financial leadership, Fuad Shubaki, the man who was in charge of financing the deal. The ship and the equipment on board were bought by the Palestinian Authority with its money. A senior Palestinian security official is involved up to his ears in this affair. The captain of the ship and three of his officers who were caught on board are members of the Palestinian naval police. So that the claim that the weapons were earmarked only for Hizbullah is more than just a little weak.

The Karine-A affair did not begin yesterday. It has been in the works for months: Beginning with the acquisition of the ship, continuing with the contacts made by Palestinian officials with Iranian intelligence officials by means of Hizbullah so as to purchase the weapons. This was no random purchase. The Palestinians decided precisely what kinds of weapons they wanted and the amounts they wanted. They needed to establish a logistical apparatus that would accompany the ship along its route through the various ports. This is a complex operation that requires thought, planning, the creation of a good cover story and a lot of money. This kind of operation could not have existed without Arafat's office knowing about it. We are dealing with a strategic decision and not with the smuggling of arms for tactical purposes. The order for Katyusha rockets was placed long before the IDF's forays into Area A. Someone in the Palestinian Authority was planning the next stage in the struggle.

When American envoy Anthony Zinni heard about the weapons ship he did not look surprised. "I knew that he (Arafat) is a liar," he said, according to Israeli sources who were in his company. But the Americans have not lost hope. There are some people in the State Department who believe that Arafat's embarrassment will spur him to do something to create trust between the two parties. Officials in Israel are less optimistic and speak about the need to reopen and reexamine the entire array of relations with the Palestinian Authority.

The Operation

"It's in Our Hands" Yedioth Ahronoth (p. 2) by Alex Fishman and Amir Rappaport -- It was all over within eight minutes, without even a single shot having been fired. The lightning-speed, "classic James Bond" operation, as it was defined by one of the General Staff major generals, ended with a ship laden with weapons intended for use against Israel captured 500 kilometers from the Israeli coast.

The military operation began to roll a few months ago. Israeli intelligence officials discovered that the Palestinian Authority had bought a cargo ship, the Karine-A, in Lebanon several months before, with the intention of using it to smuggle weapons that would be provided by Iran and Hizbullah.

The person who put the plan together on the Palestinian side was Adel Mughrabi, an operations officer and the chief procurement officer in the PA's weapons procurement department, who has been acting on this issue since October 2000. With the assistance of the commander of the Palestinian Navy, Jumaa Ghali, and his deputy, Fathi Razem, he held talks with Iranian and Hizbullah officials, formed a crew for the ship, appointed a captain and coordinated the wrapping up of the weapons.

The Planning

About a month ago various military elements began constructing operational models for the capture of the ship. Some three weeks ago the operation moved on to a new stage: The prime minister's military secretary, Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, "snuck" three senior officers into the Prime Minister's Residence through the back door. The officers were Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, IAF Commander Maj. Gen. Dan Halutz and Navy Commander Maj. Gen. Yedidya Yaari. They came to discuss a classified military operation: capturing the ship hundreds of kilometers from the Israeli coast.

The three presented the prime minister with plans for the operation, and Sharon approved them. The Noah's Ark operation went into operational mode. The IAF and Navy began training in a number of elements: long-range flights, aerial refueling, various take-over operations. One of the central problems was the fact that the Devora coast guard ships that generally patrol the Eilat area are not meant for long-range operations. Nevertheless, a decision was made to set a new precedent and to use them.

The Cargo

A number of weeks ago the ship left the port of Hudida in Yemen. On board were nine sailors, Egyptian and Jordanian, who saw stereo systems and other electronic equipment on board and believed that they were working for stolen goods smugglers. The ship was also manned by another four members of the Palestinian Navy. One of the four was a member of Hizbullah. The commander of the ship was Omar Akawi, a colonel in the Palestinian naval police.

In early December the ship set sail for the Iranian coast. On December 11 it was near the island Qeys, which is under Iranian control. It was met by an Iranian ferry on board of which were Iranian intelligence officials in the company of a top Hizbullah official, Imad Mughniya, who serves as the liaison between Iran and the Palestinian Authority. The people aboard the ferry loaded the weapons onto the boat. The weapons were wrapped in special sealed containers that are manufactured in Iran only.

Some 50 tons of weapons were placed in 83 special containers. Among other things in the containers were missiles that, if fired from PA territory, could hit any point in central Israel. The containers would have allowed what is known as "neutral floating," in which the containers float just beneath the surface of the sea, when the only visible sign is a buoy that marks the container's location. The Hizbullah official aboard the ship was responsible for using this equipment since its operation is quite complicated.

According to the Palestinian plan , the ship was supposed to have sailed to the port of Alexandria, at which point the weapons were to be transferred to three smaller vessels. The smaller ships were supposed to drop off the weapons a short distance from the coast of Gaza and el-Arish, from which point it was to be picked up by the commander of the Palestinian Naval Police.

Israeli officials believe that most or all of the equipment was to be placed in PA storehouses and a part of the weapons -- at the Iranians' demand -- was earmarked for the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror organizations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Location

After a technical problem the boat sailed back to Yemen, and then set off again for its destination. On Wednesday the boat was about 500 kilometers away from the Israeli coast, opposite the Sudanese coast. This was considered to be an optimal point for seizing control of the boat for a number of reasons. In international waters it is more likely to be able to operate without interference from a third party, there was relatively low possibility of the troops being discovered, and the location was far enough away from the final destination to assume that the people on board the ship would still not be on high alert.

It might have been easier to operate in the Mediterranean, but IDF officials wanted to refrain from an operation that would involve an incursion into Egyptian territorial waters.

In the IDF, intelligence work continued and further bits of information were put together to corroborate the fact that this was actually a ship carrying arms. The Karine-A flew the flag of the African country, Tonga, and Israeli officials were afraid that an international diplomatic incident might be created if it turned out to be a merchant vessel raided by Israel in pirate fashion. After a number of clarifications were made, there was no doubt left.

The Raid

Before the operation was launched, a number of Devora ships and the mother command ship, with the deputy commander of the Navy on board, were deployed in the area. The chief of staff, the IAF commander and the commander of the Navy monitored the events from a command plane that flew overhead above the Suez canal, when the Navy commander was the actual commander of the operation.

The command plane was capable of monitoring all the internal communication among the various combat soldiers in the course of the actual operation. This allowed the commanding echelon to make decision in the course of the operation itself.

At 4:00 a.m. Thursday morning the combined operation from the air and sea began, with the troops in the field under the command of the commander of the IDF Naval Commando. A transport helicopter suddenly appeared in the sky, under the cover of two Apache, and hovered above the ship. Dozens of commando troops shimmied down ropes onto the ship's deck. At precisely that same moment, more Naval Commando troops climbed aboard the ship from the stormy sea. These troops had made their way to the ship in small rubber boats. As soon as the troops' feet were on the deck of the cargo ship, a race against time began. The troops had to capture the 13 people on board as soon as possible, take them off guard, without their understanding what was happening. Indeed, 11 were caught while they were sleeping. The two men on duty on the deck were not able to reach their guns in time.

The Conclusion

The operation lasted eight minutes, a well-timed concert executed professionally and precisely. Two minutes later, at 4:10, the chief of staff placed a phone call to Tel Aviv: "It's in our hands." Talk on the wavelengths was done sparingly so as to prevent anyone from tapping into the conversations between the chief of staff and the "pit" in the General Staff building. But everyone knew what the chief of staff was referring to.

The execution was perfect. It was time for a toast.

On Friday afternoon, the planes and helicopters that took part in the operation began to return. The peak was when the commando ship returned to its base in Eilat with the troops on board. Hundreds of vacationers along the beach received them with a loud round of applause. A short time before 8:00 in the evening the Karine-A docked in the naval base in Eilat, with the Israeli flag flying on its mast.

Four Palestinians are currently under GSS interrogation. The nine Egyptian and Jordanian sailors will be released in the next few days because they did not know about the weapons when they boarded the ship. They said in their interrogation that at a certain stage in the sailing, one of the weapons' containers broke and when they saw what was inside they wanted to leave the ship. They said the Palestinians threatened to kill them and they had to remain on board to complete the journey.

Yedioth Exclusive: IDF Naval Officer -- "We Surprised Them in Their Sleep"

Yedioth Ahronoth (p. 12) by Goel Beno -- "We knew what we were training for, but only when we reached the beach, after the operation itself, did we comprehend the magnitude of the issue," said one of the commanders of the daring operation in the heart of the sea.

The commander, an IDF Naval Commando officer in the reserves, was called up to serve some time before the operation.

"The operation was carried out at a distance of some 300 miles from the Israeli coast," he related. "The weather wasn't good all the way, only part. The surprise was absolute at the time of the seizure of the ship. The members of the ship's crew who were awake were completely seized by paralysis. We woke the others up. We blindfolded them and didn't let them talk with one another. They were separated from each other. While not a single shot was fired, we were compelled to use force and to take the wheel from them. We figured that we would come under fire, and of course we trained for that possibility. There is always backup and security, but no one ever thinks of failure."

Despite the preparations the combatants made before the operation, they too were surprised when they boarded the ship. They did not expect to find so much weaponry on board. "We knew exactly what we were training for," said the officer. "But it was a surprise nevertheless. The amount of weapons and ammunition surprised us too."

The officer, who has had his share of operations behind enemy lines in the past during his many years of service in the naval commando, sounded very pleased last night with the results of the operation. "In an operation you don't think about anything except for the desire to succeed. You think about the job that needs to be done, and everyone does their job flawlessly. This operation, on the national level, is a rather big achievement," he said with pride. "Until you set foot on the beach, this business, from your perspective as a combatant and as a commander, is not over. Only afterwards do you think of what you did, do you understand the magnitude of the affair, and the satisfaction is great. This was not an operation of lone wolves, like they think about members of the naval commando, but absolutely a complex operation. In spite of the scope and the difficulties, the success of the operation makes you feel extremely satisfied when you know that the Israeli population was saved from all those weapons and ammunition. The feeling is definitely superb.

"Most of the guys are in their compulsory service, youngsters. Very few are reservists. But everyone is an experienced combat soldier. Today everyone feels they contributed on the national level; they swap experiences, jokes; there is a feeling of liberation, satisfaction and joy. Only after everything do you begin to think about your family and friends."

On Friday, after the operation, when the officer returned to Eilat, he called his wife, whom he met during his military service when she was a secretary in the unit. After a long period of time in which he could not tell her what he was training for, he asked her to turn on the TV and to watch the news conference scheduled for the afternoon. After the broadcast, she understood everything.

Question: What did your wife say?

Answer: "What could she say? 'Way to go, but I'm not built for that kind of stuff any more.'"

Question: Do things go back to normal tomorrow?

Answer: "Yes, until the next operation, I hope."

Karine-A: Arafat's Part

Palestinian Naval police: Arafat's Elite Unit Ma'ariv (p. 10) by Hanan Shlein -- The Palestinian naval police, A-Shurta al-Bahri, is considered Yasser Arafat's elite unit, to which the chairman of the Palestinian Authority assigns the most important missions. Palestinian sources reported that this force, which Arafat established decades ago, includes several hundred activists who were trained in the military academies and navies of the Arab countries. The force is headed by General Juma Ghali, whose headquarters are in Gaza. The force's official mission is guarding the Palestinians' territorial water border in Gaza. However, Palestinian sources say they carry out other missions as well, and some even act as Arafat's bodyguards.

On occasion, the force was involved in attempts by terrorist groups to bring in weaponry or terrorist cells by sea. Currently, naval police units also operate in the West Bank. The unit's members, who have undergone naval commando training, were posted mainly in Nablus as a special intervention force.

Palestinian sources say that the force possesses several rubber boats as well as M16s, Kalachnikov rifles and machine guns.

The Mask is Torn

Ma'ariv (p. 1) by Binyamin Netanyahu -- The confiscation of the arms ship has once again torn the mask off Arafat's face. Once again his method was exposed: talking peace in the west and preparing a war in the east. Once again it became clear that at his will he incites terrorism and at his will he quiets it down, but that he is always preparing the next murderous mission to serve his immutable goal, which is the destruction of Israel. The IDF and the security branches, along with the prime minister and the defense minister, deserve all possible praise for capturing the ship in time, but what are the strategic lessons we should learn from this? First of all, the terrible danger of the establishment of a Palestinian state has been revealed once more. This will be a sovereign terrorist state. If it is established, and with our consent yet, then we will not be able to prevent arms ships, like the one discovered, from arriving at that state day and night. Within a short time, it will have stockpiled arsenals of weapons which will threaten every Israeli citizen and the entire state. Therefore, in every possible scenario of the foreseeable future, Israel must maintain full security control of the borders of the Palestinian entity, and that does not, of course, fall in with an agreement to Palestinian sovereignty.

Therefore, I have warned time and time again, since the Oslo Accords to this very day, of the existential danger the State of Israel would face with the establishment of a Palestinian state. Now, I say once more that consent to the establishment of such a state, which was expressed by the foreign minister and which received the prime minister's agreement, is a fateful mistake which must be rectified immediately. Second, we must understand once and for all that we cannot reach any arrangement with Arafat. His promises and his signature are worthless. Everything he says and does is intended to trick us into believing that he and his mates are prepared to live peacefully by our side. His only goal as the head of the PLO is to bring us to a situation in which the Arabs will be able to destroy us.

Therefore, we have only one choice: topple his regime and destroy the forces of terrorism. Only in that way will everybody who would come in his place know that there is a heavy price to pay for terrorism against Israel and that the plot to destroy us is a vain idea. Maybe then, the way will be opened to reconciliation and peace between us and those among the Arabs who still insist on trying to annihilate us.

The Iranian Connection

Senior Officials: Iran's True Face Exposed

Ma'ariv (p. 11) by Yoav Limor -- Israeli officials state that there is "clear-cut evidence" of Iranian involvement in supplying the weapons captured on board the Karine-A. In light of this, the prime minister, the defense minister and the foreign minister plan to begin marathon talks with leaders worldwide, demanding that they take action against Iran. Peres even plans to demand that the international community add Iran to the list of countries which support terrorism. "Most of the weaponry discovered on the ship is Iranian," Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz stated on Friday. "This shows a tight connection between the Palestinian Authority and Iran and terrorist groups connected to it, which are interested in Israel's destruction," he said.

"The Iranian connection" was revealed already at the beginning of the investigation of the ship's crew. They said that the loading of the weaponry was conducted under the supervision of "Farsi-speaking people," probably members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. In addition, the containers in which the weapons were concealed carried writing in Farsi, as did some of the weaponry itself. It is believed the 50 tons of weaponry were loaded onto the ship at the Iranian island of Qeys at the beginning of its journey.

Israeli officials can point to a strengthening of ties between Palestinian Authority bodies and Iranian government officials over recent months, probably in an effort to get weapons. The Iranians also provided the inspiration for previous attempts to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip, including aboard the Santorini, which was captured in the Mediterranean about six months ago, en route from Lebanon to Gaza. Senior political and security officials said this weekend that exposing "the Iranian connection" in the affair was "important in exposing Iran's true face." A senior official also said that by smuggling the arms, Iran was interested in "turning the entire State of Israel into the northern border" and in putting most of Israel's communities within range of the long-range missiles.

Today, the prime minister, the defense minister and the foreign minister are scheduled to hold a series of talks with leaders worldwide and to present to them the details of the affair, while demanding that they take action against Iran. At the same time, the new information will also be used in a PR and media campaign abroad.

Iran, for its part, denied once more yesterday any involvement with the arms ship: "Israel's allegations are groundless. The Zionists are trying to besmirch the image of the Intifada."

Israeli-American cooperation

Israel and US Exchanged Intelligence Regarding Arms Ship

Ma'ariv (p. 10) by Ben Caspit et al. -- Israel and the United States were completely coordinated in all pertaining to the Palestinian arms ship Karine-A which was captured this weekend by Navy commandos, a senior political source told Ma'ariv.

Israel and the US held close intelligence cooperation over the past two weeks in all concerning the arms ship. Very senior Israeli figures briefed the American CIA Director George Tenet and other senior Washington officials on details regarding the ship and its crew. In return, the Israeli officials received classified information from the Americans. However, the Americans did not ask, nor were they informed in advance, about the planned method of operation for capturing the ship.

On the night between Wednesday and Thursday, as soon as confirmation was received from sea that the takeover of the ship had been completed, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon telephoned Secretary of State Colin Powell and briefed him about the details of the operation. Powell, say senior American officials, was not particularly surprised by the news of the raid. In light of the developments, the US made stricter demands of Arafat. In a conversation between General Another Zinni and Yasser Arafat yesterday, Zinni demanded that he "stop playing games and start waging a real war on the terrorist infrastructure." Zinni, who already on Thursday received a detailed report from the heads of the security establishment regarding the ship's capture, arrived at his meeting with Arafat with a list of senior Palestinian Authority officials who were involved in the financing and organization of the arms ship. Despite this, the Palestinians continued denying to him any connection to the ship.

An American source said that he US accepts the Israeli assertion that Iran is behind the ship. However, a senior American source said last night, "US intelligence was brought into he picture when the ship was already at sea, so we don't have any independent information as to what exactly happened before it left."

This morning Foreign Minister Shimon Peres plans to write a special letter regarding the operation and especially with regard to the Iranian responsibility. The foreign minister plans to send the letter to all the world's leaders. Peres plans to make mention of the comment by former Iranian president Rafsanjani that an atom bomb should be dropped on Israel, and to ask the world leaders to view Iran as a country which supports terrorism.

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