The seizure of five containers by the Maritime Police in the Port of Naples last Friday, Dec. 7 – before they were loaded on an Egyptian freighter – shut down two of Iran’s mainline clandestine arms routes to the Hamas-ruled Gaza from Kosovo and Macedonia via Croatia and Italy, DEBKAfile reports exclusively from its military and intelligence sources.
The Naples police acted on a tip-off from Israel. Iranian arms smuggling rings were then partly rolled up in other parts of Italy together with “another cache of weapons.”
Western intelligence sources say this Israeli undercover operation was equal in significance and scope to the bombing on Oct. 24 of the Iranian-Sudanese missile industrial center at Yarmouk and the destruction of a stock of Fajr-5 rockets that was bound for the Gaza Strip through Sinai.
The Naples operation shut down two more Iranian clandestine arms-smuggling routes and sources of arms for Palestinian terrorists – this one from southern Europe.
Contrary to the reports that the five contraband containers were seized aboard an Egyptian vessel anchored in Naples, DEBKAfile reveals that they were in fact removed from trucks entering the port with documents for loading the containers aboard that vessel. The documents described the containers’ contents as building materials coming from Verona, 570 kilometers to the north of Naples, which has large factories making tiles and other wares for bathrooms and kitchens.
Forewarned from Israel, Italian security inspectors ordered the truck drivers to pull over to an isolated section of the port and put up an entry forbidden notice. The first containers opened were packed with arms and other military equipment, including electronic devices for improving rocket accuracy, hundred of anti-tank missiles and a large quantity of snipers’ rifles for sharpshooting. The ship’s destination was listed as Alexandria, Egypt on the papers.
An Egyptian man waiting to place the cargo aboard the ship was detained for interrogation and charged with illegal possession of arms. Further arrests in other parts of Italy followed.
The Italian authorities have been uncharacteristically secretive about the identity of the Egyptian detainee, their additional arrests, the name of the Egyptian freighter and even the nationality of its flag – in consideration of the sensitivity of Israel’s undercover work against Iran’s contraband arms networks and routes.
According to DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources, Iran has developed highly sophisticated networks for smuggling arms to its allies which run by land and by sea. Two begin in Kosovo and Macedonia where local Muslim collaborators purchase the weapons and pack them on container trucks ready for their first lap to Croatia, then on to Verona, where they wait for weeks – or sometimes months – before continuing to the next lap. This break in their journey is used to make sure they are not followed and throw of the scent if they are.
For another route, our sources report that Italian sea smugglers offload containers from Iranian merchant vessels in the Adriatic Sea and bring them ashore at small inlets in the northern Italian province of Veneto. They too are trucked to the clandestine terminal Iran has set up in Verona. When they are certain they have not been spotted, the trucks are sent down the long road to Naples.
There, the containers are loaded onto Egyptian freighters bound for Alexandria and Port Said. But first, they stop off quietly at the northern Sinai port of El Arish, where Hamas operatives are waiting to offload the arms and push the new consignment through smuggling tunnels into the Gaza Strip.