On early Wednesday morning (Israel time), March 5th, an Israeli commando force known as Shayetet 13 (Flotilla 13) stormed on board a freighter, the Klos-C, in the Red Sea sailing under a Panamanian flag. Shayetet 13 is roughly equivalent to the U.S. Navy Seals –its motto is Never Again. Jamie Frater counts this naval commando force as one of the “Top Ten Badasses of the World’s Special Forces.” The raid on the Klos-C was the result of extensive intelligence gathering including close cooperation between the U.S. and Israel.
Hidden on board the vessel, sandwiched under bags of cement with “Made in Iran” stamped on them, were some forty M-302 missiles, 181 120mm mortars and 400,000 rounds of 7.62 ammunition.
According to Israel and fully supported by the U.S., the missiles originated in Syria. They were air-shipped to Iran (probably on Russian-made IL-76 aircraft), put on the Klos-C freighter, which departed Iran’s port of Bandar Abbas, sailed on to Iraq and planned to drop off the weapons on the Sinai coast where they would eventually be smuggled to Gaza or, alternatively, set up in the Sinai but aimed at Israeli cities. According to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) from launching sites in Gaza or Sinai, the rockets are in range of most of Israel.
The M-302 is manufactured in Syria and previously was supplied to Hezbollah. In 2006 a number of these rockets were fired at northern Israel. The M-302 is available in different versions, has a range in excess of 125 miles, and a fairly large warhead coming in at over 144kilograms (318 pounds).
The M-302 is otherwise known as the Khaibar. Khaibar (or Khaybar) is an Oasis located near Medina in Saudi Arabia. Khaybar itself was the scene of an important series of battles starting in a.d. 629 between the Jewish community living in that area and an invasion force launched under the guidance of Mohammed. Known as the Battle of Khaybar, it is an interesting and complex story that resulted in the defeat of the Jewish community and a negotiated surrender. Under the surrender terms, the Jews were to be allowed to continue living in the Khaybar area, said protection agreed under a signed treaty. However, in a.d. 642 the Jewish community was expelled from the area, violating the treaty terms.
It is hard to miss the significance of the name of the missile.
Still unanswered is why Iran sponsored such a hostile operation directed against Israel at this particular moment in time.
Iran is sponsoring the Syrian regime, along with the Russians, against insurgent groups and seem to be gaining the upper hand in the conflict. Thanks to a weak and indecisive U.S. administration, and the shadow of nuclear negotiations with Iran, the Obama administration has not intervened in Syria (despite so-called red lines) and has provided only cursory support to the rebels. The U.S. all but jettisoned its vital oil-producing ally, Saudi Arabia, who supported the rebels in Syria, creating a potential vulnerability that also has untoward echoes in the Ukraine, where the Russians were bold enough to occupy the Crimea, and have threatened to cut off oil supplies to the Ukraine as another step in trying to dismantle the Ukrainian revolution.
So why take a chance on toppling the apple cart –especially when the cart is tilted so much in favor of the Iranians and their Russian backers?
Some have suggested that the Iranians were trying to check mate a possible Israeli raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities and thus the placement of these rockets either in Gaza or Sinai could be aimed at Israel’s strategic systems including its reactor at Dimona. This is a possibility, but the chosen tool –the M-302– is a wobbly choice because the rockets are inaccurate and the warheads would need pinpoint accuracy to destroy strategic targets.
Other have also said that the M-302 rockets exploit a vulnerability in Israel’s rocket defense system based on the Iron Dome system. The Iron Dome intercepts incoming rockets. Whether it is capable of destroying the rather larger size M-302 compared to the typically small rockets fired off by Hamas or by Hezbollah, is unclear. But Israel’s Air Force could rapidly obliterate the launch sites for these rockets, making their strategic value less than planned by Iran.
There is an outside chance that these rockets were not destined to attack Israel at all. They could, for example, be used against Egyptian military installations or even hit Cairo. In this case it would be the Egyptians on the wrong end of the stick, not Israel.
One would think there would be a lot less risk for Iran, Syria and Russia if Egypt instead of Israel was the target. But right now the Israeli leadership thinks they are the target and that this Iranian provocation may have crossed the line. If that is the case, for sure Israel will retaliate, which will also please Saudi Arabia and Egypt. It could be a step in the right direction in restoring the balance of power in the region, a step that is sorely needed.
Many years ago (1978 to be exact) I wrote an article suggesting that Israel was a strategic asset for the United States. A cartoonist for the Camden NJ Courier Post that ran the article, drew a map of Israel to look like an aircraft carrier, with fighter jets coming off its deck. I continue to believe in the fundamental thesis I advanced then. Right now, with America making so many wrong moves and with American global credibility at an all time low. the aircraft carrier could come in handy.