Page last updated at 19:12 GMT, Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Weapons haul reveals fragile calm

Israeli military police guard weapons, including rockets, seized from a ship
The ship and weapons were taken to an Israeli port

By Roger Hardy
Middle East analyst, BBC News

Israeli officials say they have seized a ship carrying a large consignment of Iranian weapons, including Katyusha missiles, to the Lebanese group Hezbollah.

The ship, the Francop, which was flying under an Antiguan flag, was seized near Cyprus and taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

If the Israeli account is true, this is a propaganda coup for the Jewish state.

First, the scale of the find - hundreds of tonnes, according to the officials - makes it unprecedented.

The Israelis say the cargo of the Francop was 10 times as big as that of the Karin-A, the ship they captured in 2002 allegedly bringing Iranian weapons to the Palestinians.

It could, they say, have kept Hezbollah supplied for a month of fighting.

Iran in the dock

Second, it strengthens Israel's argument that Iran is a serious threat to regional stability.

The capture of the ship and its cargo comes at a time when Iran is already in the dock over its nuclear ambitions.

It stands accused of opposing a Middle East peace settlement, not only rhetorically, but through arming two of Israel's bitterest enemies - Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Third, it indicates that, since its month-long war with Israel in the summer of 2006, Hezbollah has worked hard to replenish its arsenal.

The seizure of the ship is a reminder, says Ellen Laipson of the Henry Stimson Center in Washington, that this is "an enduring low-intensity conflict".

Despite the world's preoccupation with the nuclear issue, what keeps that conflict going are the rockets and grenades of the kind the Israelis have captured.

Although Israel's northern border has been largely quiet since 2006, Israel and Hezbollah operate from the shared assumption that sooner or later the war will be reignited.

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