JERUSALEM — Israel has displayed weapons from an intercepted ship it says were being sent from Iran to militants in the Gaza Strip -- a charge denied by Tehran.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu displayed the arms at a news conference Monday in the Red Sea port of Eilat. Flanked by senior defense officials, Netanyahu accused the world of standing by while the Iranian government arms Gaza militants who threaten millions of Israelis.
"There are those who would prefer that we not hold this news conference here today," he said. "They feel uncomfortable that we show what is really happening inside Iran. They prefer that we continue to nurture the illusion that Iran has changed direction. They are not prepared to recognize that Iran, a brutal regime, has not abandoned its deep involvement in terrorism, its systematic efforts to undermine peace and security throughout the Middle East and its ambition to destroy Israel."
But, he said, the facts we are showing on this platform prove the exact opposite.
Israel announced the weapons discovery last week after boarding a Panamanian-flagged ship in the Red Sea. The government distributed videos of its soldiers unloading the weapons from containers from the ship. It said the arms were hidden under sacks of cement that originated in Iran.
The Israeli government said it seized 40 M-302 rockets, 181 large mortar shells and 400,000 rounds of Kalashnikov bullets. It said the rockets have a range up to 160 kilometers, which mean they could reach most urban centers in Israel.
Israel said the arms were made in Syria and flown to Iran where they were loaded onto the ship headed for Port Sudan. They were then to be transported overland via Egypt and smuggled into Gaza.
The governments of Iran and Sudan have denied the charge. An official of the Hamas group that controls Gaza, Taher al-Nono, called it a big lie.
He said this is a silly claim and futile fabrication aimed at justifying the blockade of the Gaza Strip. In reality, he said, Gaza is blockaded and they are talking about a ship that was found in the Red Sea thousands of kilometers away.
Israel has maintained a naval and land blockade against Gaza since Hamas seized power seven years ago. Gaza residents have used smuggling tunnels from Egypt's Sinai desert to bring in food, construction supplies as well as arms.
Egypt's military-backed government has destroyed many tunnels since it seized power eight months ago but some reportedly continue to operate.
Iran and six world powers have negotiated a temporary agreement aimed at ending Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program in exchange for an easing of sanctions against it. Israel has sharply criticized the negotiations, saying Iran has no intention of abandoning its program.