Skip to main content

U.S. Navy was secretly prepared to seize Iranian weapons

By Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent
March 10, 2014 -- Updated 0101 GMT (0901 HKT)
FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Navy had secret orders this week to be
FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Navy had secret orders this week to be "prepared to act" to stop a cargo ship carrying Iranian arms destined for Gaza, CNN has learned.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • There were secret orders to be "prepared" to stop a cargo ship loaded with arms
  • The U.S. and Israel noticed the ship in the Persian Gulf diverted to Iraq to load up
  • Israel wound up intercepting the ship and its cargo, identified as rockets and missiles

(CNN) -- The U.S. Navy had secret orders this week to be "prepared to act" to stop a cargo ship carrying Iranian arms destined for Gaza, CNN has learned.

Navy vessels in the Middle East received orders to move "into the proximity of the ship and act if ordered," according to a senior U.S. military official familiar with the operation.

The scenario included the possibility of boarding the ship, which was eventually stopped in the Red Sea by Israeli naval forces, who authorities said seized a cargo of Iranian rockets and missiles.

A second American official confirmed that U.S. intelligence and the Israelis became aware of the effort by Iran to smuggle the weapons several days ago.

Nuclear weapons have 'no place' in Iran
Peres: Iran is competing with Egypt

The United States secretly tracked the shipment as it left Iran by air and then landed in Syria. The weapons were then shipped into Iraq and loaded at a port in southern Iraq.

U.S. and Israeli intelligence grew concerned when the cargo ship in the Persian Gulf suddenly diverted from its expected heading to Sudan and suddenly turned north toward Iraq to load up.

The United States does not believe the Iraqi government sanctioned the smuggling.

American navy ships in the region secretly tracked the cargo down the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea and then to the Red Sea until the Israeli navy boarded the vessel before it reached Sudan, a typical point for unloading smuggled weapons.

The Israeli military later showed video of the weapons with markings indicating they were made in Iran.

The White House hinted at the scope of the operation, but only after it concluded.

"The White House directed the Department of Defense to monitor the vessel and to develop concepts of operation for a range of options to be prepared to take unilateral steps if necessary," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke Thursday with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon to receive what the Pentagon called a "briefing" from the Israelis on the operation.

The Pentagon said in a statement both nations "have been in consistent touch on Israel's interdiction operation, coordinating extensively through military and intelligence channels."

The seizure showed the United States was continuing to hold Iran "accountable for its destabilizing activities in the region, even as we continue efforts to resolve our concerns over Iran's nuclear program through diplomacy," the statement said.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Successful launch of lunar orbiter, seen as a precursor for a planned mission to the surface of the moon, marks significant advance for the country's space program.
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1915 GMT (0315 HKT)
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, shot while standing guard at Ottawa's National War Memorial, was known for his easygoing manner and smile.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Non-stop chatter about actress' appearance is nasty, cruel, hurtful, invasive and sexist.
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
CEO's 30-min Putonghua chat is the perfect charm offensive for Facebook's last untapped market.
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 0345 GMT (1145 HKT)
Chinese leaders want less odd architecture built in the country.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2058 GMT (0458 HKT)
Air New Zealand's new 'Hobbit' safety video stars Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood, elves and orcs.
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
A 15-year-old pregnant girl is rescued from slavery, only to be charged with having sex outside of marriage, shocked rights activists say -- a charge potentially punishable by death.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 0333 GMT (1133 HKT)
After sushi and ramen, beef is on the list of must-eats for many visitors to Japan.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1607 GMT (0007 HKT)
Airports judged on comfort, conveniences, cleanliness and customer service.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1748 GMT (0148 HKT)
Scientists use CT scans to recreate a life-size image of the ancient king.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 0959 GMT (1759 HKT)
Despite billions spent on eradicating poppy production, Afghan farmers are growing bumper crops, a U.S. government report says.
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1021 GMT (1821 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT