An Israel Defense Forces captain serving on the vessel that intercepted an Iranian ship two weeks ago told a rapt audience at the Jewish Community Center in Rockville how the missiles, grenades and ammunition destined for Gaza were captured.
“This time, the intelligence was very, very accurate. We knew months before,” said the captain, who asked that his name not be used for security reasons. His speech was sponsored by the Washington and Baltimore chapters of the Friends of the IDF.
The Israeli navy found 40 missiles, each 16 feet long, deeply hidden in the Klos-C ship that was traveling under a Panamanian flag in international waters, said the young soldier, who turned 24 about two weeks after the capture.
The missiles, hidden beneath boxes in crates and covered with rice and sand, took more than an hour to find once members of the IDF boarded the ship. The crew and its Turkish captain were cooperative and completely unaware of the weapons they were transporting.
If those missiles, which have a range of about 125 miles, had not been intercepted, they would have been taken by land from Sudan to Egypt and then through tunnels into Gaza to be used against Israel, the captain explained. Also found on board were grenades and 400,000 bullets.
While it was crucial to keep these weapons away from terrorists, the captain told the audience of about 150 that it was also “diplomatically important, because now we can say Iran really is attached” to spreading terrorism throughout the region.
“Iran. Hezbollah. Hamas. They were acting like they were one organization,” the captain said, adding the rockets came from Syria to Iran.
Normally, his navy ship carries “60 to 70 people, tops, but on this operation, we were 92 people. People were sleeping everywhere,” he said. While not being specific, it was clear that the extra riders were IDF members who knew how to defuse bombs and others who would know what to do if the Klos-C ship’s crew had resisted.
It was the job of the navy ship’s crew, of which this captain was second in command, to track the vessel and follow it closely enough to learn if there were terrorists on board.
After several days observing, the captain’s ship as well as another vessel got “very close to them. We tried to scare them.” They next called to the ship from their radio.
“The minute they saw us they said, ‘OK, you can come aboard,’ ” recalled the captain, adding that their crew dropped a ladder for the Israelis.
While the Israelis searched the ship, its crew was kept together in one room. Once the weapons were found, the vessel was taken to Eilat, where the weapons were unloaded and studied, he said.
The return to Israel was dangerous, because the crew was concerned that terrorists might be hiding along the shoreline, ready to attack, he said.
When they made it back safely, the crew members were greeted by “thousands of people waiting for us, cheering, clapping their hands.”
Those in attendance at the JCC did likewise. “He is a true, true war hero,” said Philip Berry of Potomac, regional executive director for the Midatlantic Region of the Friends of the IDF. That chapter helps to support the well being of the men and women in the Israeli navy, donating $1.5 million over a three-year period.
Shelly Lohmannn, director of development in the Baltimore office of the Midatlantic FIDF, called it “a gift” to be able to hear the captain’s story in person.
Eugene Meyer of Pikesville said the story made him very proud and propelled him back to the days, many years ago, when he was a member of the Israeli Air Force. He felt the captain was at times too modest, making it sound like all he did was drive a boat. “They weren’t there to take a cruise,” said Meyer.
Lawrence Kravitz of Rockville, whose grandson serves in the Israeli army, called the speech “excellent.”
“He said what he could,” noted Kravitz. “He didn’t say what he shouldn’t.”
After listening to the captain, Peter Huessy said it was even more evident just how isolated Israel is in the world. Thanks to a peace treaty with Egypt, Israel was able to sail through the Suez Canal on this mission, but that could change at any time with the current situation in Egypt, said Huessy, president of GeoStrategic Analysis.