Some U.S. intelligence analysts and Middle East security officials believe that the rocket shipment that was seized by Israel in the Red Sea may have been destined for the Egyptian Sinai and not for Gaza, Reuters reported Tuesday.
A U.S. official and two non-Israeli regional sources said Israel appeared to be insisting on the Gaza destination in order to spare the military-backed interim Egyptian administration embarrassment as it struggles to impose order in the Sinai.
“Were the Israelis to say the rockets were going to Sinai, then they would also have had to say who in Sinai was going to receive the rockets,” one source told Reuters, adding that such a statement would draw attention to the terrorists in the Sinai.
The IDF conducted the raid of the ship, the Klos C, in the Red Sea several weeks ago, between the waters of Sudan and Eritrea.
The ship flew a Panamanian flag and carried weapons which were made in Syria under Iran’s directives. The destination of the weapons was Sudan, from where they can be then taken to the Sinai Peninsula and smuggled to Gaza through the underground tunnels.
Both Iran and Gaza’s Hamas terrorist rulers have denied any connection to the Klos C. Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, denied that his country was behind the ship and also claimed that Israel had purposely revealed the capture of the ship the same week that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was in Washington for the AIPAC conference.
The officials who spoke to Reuters said that it would have been hard for the M302 rockets on board the Klos C to enter Gaza, given the Israeli naval blockade of the region as well as Egypt’s ongoing crackdown on the smuggling tunnels.
A U.S. official said Washington had confirmed the Syrian and Iranian provenance of the rockets and believed they were to have been used against Israel, but added that half of U.S. intelligence analysts thought that Sinai, not Gaza, was the destination.
“You look at those things and it’s obvious they couldn’t have been slipped into Gaza,” the official said, adding that the M302s were not designed to be disassembled for easier smuggling.
Experts noted that with their 160 km (100 mile) range, the M302s could have been launched from areas of Sinai well away from Israeli spotters along the Egyptian border, and struck Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.
Rocket attacks from the Sinai at Israel are certainly a possible. A Salafi group based in the Sinai, Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis, has claimed several rocket attacks from the Sinai at the Israeli resort city of Eilat.