An Israeli naval vessel patrols the entrance to the port of Ashdod. (Ariel Schalit / Associated…)
Reporting from Jerusalem — The Israeli navy on Tuesday intercepted a Liberian-flagged cargo ship in the Mediterranean Sea that it said was carrying weapons destined for Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli commandos intercepted the German-owned ship about 200 miles off Israel's coast. The ship began in Syria, stopped in Turkey and was believed to be heading to the Egyptian port of Alexandria, Israel Defense Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu told Israel Radio.
Israel did not say what evidence it had to suggest that the weapons were destined for Gaza.
The military, which routinely monitors the sea as part of its effort to stem the flood of illegal weapons into the region, had been tracking the ship for several days, officials said. Israel maintains a tight naval blockade around Gaza to prevent militants there from arming.
Naval forces said they boarded the vessel, the Victoria, without resistance from the crew and took the ship to the Israeli port of Ashdod for inspection.
"The IDF acted to defend the security of the country," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said. "The attempt to smuggle weaponry to Gaza shows that radical elements are continuing attempts to attack Israel and undermine regional stability."
Israel has complained about illegal weapons convoys that reach the seaside enclave through smuggling tunnels along the Egyptian border.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who approved the seizure of the vessel, accused Iran of supplying the weapons. The cache included antiship missiles, long-range missiles and a Persian-language manual, Israelis said.
It is believed to be the largest such arms seizure since November 2009, when Israel intercepted a ship it said was carrying large amounts of Iranian weaponry to Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant movement.
Sobelman is a news assistant in The Times' Jerusalem bureau. Times staff writer Edmund Sanders contributed to this report.