Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the world of “hypocrisy” over Iran on Monday as he unveiled a shipment of arms allegedly dispatched to Gaza by Tehran.
Standing in front of a vast display of weapons seized last week from a vessel in the Red Sea, Netanyahu launched a blistering attack on the West over its apparent disregard for Iran’s alleged attempts to supply longer-range rockets to Palestinian militants.
In a highly-publicised speech from Eilat port, where the weapons had been unloaded, Netanyahu said he had only heard a handful of “softly-worded condemnations of Iran” over its “murderous delivery” which came to light just days before EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton made a landmark visit to Tehran.
“We have been witness to the smiles and the handshakes between representatives of the West and the heads of the Iranian regime in Tehran, even as these missiles were being unloaded here in Eilat,” he said.
There were some in the international community who did not want Israel to expose “the truth behind the false smiles of Iran,” he said, dismissing President Hassan Rouhani, who has spearheaded Iran’s opening to the West, as nothing more than “a PR man.”
“They want to continue perpetuating the illusion that Iran has changed direction. The facts that we are showing here, on this platform show the complete opposite,” he said.
Ahead of the speech, hordes of journalists and foreign military attaches were shown the weapons found on board the Panamanian-flagged Klos-C, including 40 longer-range M-302 rockets, 181 mortar rounds and approximately 400,000 rifle cartridges.
Also on display were sacks of cement under which the weapons had been hidden. On the sacks, written in English, were the names “Fars and Khozestan Cement Co” and “Hormozgan Cement Company” – both names of Iranian firms.
M-302 rockets have a range of 160 kilometres (100 miles), and if fired from Gaza could easily reach Tel Aviv, which lies just 60 kilometres to the north.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said Gaza militants have around 8,000 rockets, including 200 M75s, named for their 75-kilometre range.
The Islamist Hamas movement ruling Gaza unveiled a statue of the M75 Monday to showcase its ability to strike deep within Israel. M75 rockets fired during the last conflict with Israel in November 2012 struck near Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
– ‘Verified by US intelligence’ –
Analysts have said the discovery of the ship was unlikely to change the West’s limited rapprochement with Iran or its willingness to negotiate over Tehran’s controversial nuclear programme.
Netanyahu compared the international community’s silence on the Iranian ship with its haste to condemn Israel over its construction of settlements on land seized during the 1967 Six Day War.
“If we build a balcony in a neighbourhood of Jerusalem, we hear a chorus of vociferous condemnation of the state of Israel from the international community,” he said.
Israel has said it has “solid and incriminating evidence” that Iran planned and executed the weapons shipment, but so far it has not made such evidence public.
“Our intelligence services exposed the ship’s wayward route and Iran’s efforts to disguise it. They exposed the ship’s deadly cargo and its intended destination,” he said, noting that US intelligence services had “verified all these facts.”
Iran has flatly denied any involvement with the shipment, which Israel believes was destined for the radical Islamic Jihad, which operates out of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
World powers are currently engaged in talks with Iran to roll back its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief. Tehran has long insisted its nuclear activities are entirely peaceful.
But Israel, which believes Iran is still trying to build a nuclear weapons capability, has repeatedly insisted that the only thing Tehran has changed is its tactics.
“Just as Iran hid its deadly missiles in the belly of this ship, Iran is hiding its actions and its intentions in many of its key installations for developing nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said.
Israel, the region’s sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state, has refused to rule out the option of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza have denied any knowledge of the ship.