20 Jan.: US and Egyptian warships were scouring the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea Tuesday, Jan. 20 to waylay an Iranian freighter they had been informed was loaded with an estimated 60 tons of arms to replenish Hamas' depleted war stocks which had set out from the Iranian Persian Gulf port of Bandar Abbas on Jan. 17.
The ship changed its name in mid-voyage from Iran-Hedayat to Famagustus registered to Panama, thus arousing suspicion. The captain is under orders to unload his cargo at a smugglers cove on the southeastern coast of Sinai, to be picked up by armed Bedouin gangs and moved to El Arish in northern Sinai. From there the contraband rockets were to be slipped gradually into the Gaza Strip.
It consists of 50 Fajr rockets whose range is 50-75 km, scores of heavy Grad rockets, new, improved launchers whose angle of fire can be precisely adjusted, tons of high-quality explosives, submachine guns, rifles and pistols and armor-piercing missiles and shells (of types used successfully by Hizballah against Israeli tanks in 2006).
The shipment, the largest Tehran has ever consigned to the Palestinian Hamas in Gaza, includes also a large number of anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines, equipment for assembling roadside bombs and advanced communications and night vision gear.
21 Jan.: The USS San Antonio amphibian warship, heading the Combined Task Force (CTF) 151 patrolling the Gulf of Aden for pirates, has been assigned with hunting down the Iranian cargo vessel carrying 60 tons of rockets and other arms for smuggling into Gaza. Its beat in the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Red Sea covers the routes of Iranian arms smugglers for Hamas.
Massed on the San Antonio's decks is a helicopter detachment, a "surgical team" for dealing with small speedboats trying to hem the ship in and boarding teams with their own small boats and helicopters. US marine and coast guard units make up the interception force.
Israel's foreign minister Tzipi Livni flew to Brussels Wednesday, Jan. 21, to discuss adding the European Union to the understanding she signed with the US last Friday for ending the flow of smuggled Iranian weapons to Gaza. Egypt and Israel are negotiating Cairo's end of the operation
21 Jan.: The last Israeli soldier exited the Gaza Strip Wednesday, Jan. 21, four days after a unilateral ceasefire ended a 22-day IDF offensive against Hamas. Ten soldiers were killed, dozens injured – more than 30 remain in hospital. During the fighting, Hamas fired 600 rockets and missiles. More than 1,300 Palestinians were killed, of whom 500 were terrorist fighters. (A Palestinian doctor at Shifa hospital in Gaza City confided to the Italian Corriere della Sera Thursday that the true death toll was no more than 500-600 and Hamas had inflated the casualty figures.)
The reservists on emergency call-up orders were released. The regular army is on standby with tanks at border positions on alert in case of resumed Hamas aggression. They are armed with new rules of engagement compared with their directives prior to Operation Cast Lead.
Gaza operation commander Gen. Yoav Galant, addressing a parade marking the end of the operation complimented the units fighting in Gaza for successful coordinating operations among the air force, navy, ground forces, tanks, engineering and Shin Bet intelligence.
Summary of DEBKAfile Exclusives in the Week Ending Jan. 23, 2009