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
Explore CNN's interactive that explains ISIS' roots, what it controls, and where its support comes from.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 2010 GMT (0410 HKT)
In his first-ever interview as the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani defended his country against allegations of funding terrorism.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0920 GMT (1720 HKT)
The U.S. and several Arab nations carried out airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, intensifying the campaign against the militant group.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
A mysterious Chicago fire and possible suicide attempt causes massive disruption in the U.S.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 1503 GMT (2303 HKT)
The North Korean leader hasn't been seen for weeks, leading to speculation that he is in poor health.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0154 GMT (0954 HKT)
Haider al-Abadi hopes airstrikes don't lead to "of another terrorist element" instead of ISIS.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
The United States couldn't do it on its first try. Neither could the Soviets.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Emma Watson lent her name and her glittery profile to the cause of feminism at the United Nations.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1529 GMT (2329 HKT)
CNN's Nima Elbagir reflects on a harrowing trip to Liberia where she covered the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Contrary to public opinion, rats can actually save lives -- Apopo's rats have actually saved thousands.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 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