JERUSALEM — Open crates from a cargo ship seized Wednesday by Israel revealed dark green missiles inside. Containers from the vessel bore writing in English that read "I.R. Iranian Shipping Lines Group."
Israel alleged that the shipment of hundreds of tons of rockets, missiles, mortars, grenades and antitank weapons — the largest it ever seized — was headed for Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.
Israel stopped the ship, named the Francop, off the coast of Cyprus and towed it to the port of Ashdod. It carried orange, red, white and blue containers piled three deep on its deck.
Rows of crates from the vessel were displayed on the dock, and inside were rockets, hand grenades, mortars and ammunition. At least 3,000 missiles were on board, the Israeli military said.
The seizure spotlighted the dangerous tensions between Israel and Iran. Israel considers Iran a strategic threat because of its nuclear program and long-range missile development, dismissing Iranian denials that it is building nuclear weapons.
The seizure came a day after Israeli officials said Hamas tested an Iranian rocket that can hit metropolitan Tel Aviv — bringing to the fore Israeli fears that both Hezbollah and Hamas are rearming for more confrontations following the 2006 Lebanon war and last winter's Gaza war.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew clear conclusions. "Whoever still needed indisputable proof that Iran continues to send weapons to terror organizations got it today in a clear and unequivocal manner. Iran sends these weapons to terror organizations in order to hit Israeli cities and kill civilians," he said. "The time has come for the international community to put real pressure on Iran for it to halt this despicable activity and back Israel when it defends itself against terrorists and their patrons."
In Tehran, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem dismissed Israeli allegations the ship carried arms. "Unfortunately, some official pirates in the seas, sometimes in the name of the navy, sometimes in the name of inspection, obstruct trade movement between Syria and Iran," al-Moallem said a joint news conference with his Iranian counterpart.
"This ship does not carry Iranian weapons to Syria and does not contain military material to manufacture weapons in Syria. This ship carries imported goods from Syria to Iran," he added.