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Israel displays rockets seized in Red Sea raid

Tuesday - 3/11/2014, 2:24am  ET

Dozens of mortar shells and rockets are on display after being seized from the Panama-flagged KLOS C civilian cargo ship that Israel intercepted last Wednesday off the coast of Sudan, at a military port in the Red Sea city of Eilat, southern Israel, Monday, March 10, 2014. Israel has alleged the shipment was orchestrated by Iran and was intended for Islamic militants in Gaza, a claim denied by Iran and the rockets' purported recipients. Questions remain, including how the rockets would have been smuggled into Gaza, largely cut off from the world by a border blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Associated Press

EILAT, Israel (AP) -- Israel's prime minister on Monday triumphantly toured a display of dozens of rockets that navy commandos intercepted in the Red Sea last week, alleged to be on their way from Iran to the Gaza Strip, and accused the international community of ignoring Iranian support for militant groups and falling victim to a charm offensive by the new leadership in Tehran.

Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to this Red Sea port capped a six-day PR blitz aimed at persuading world powers to toughen their position in nuclear talks. So far, the international reaction has been subdued, illustrating the uphill battle the Israeli leader faces in his efforts to change the minds of world leaders about Iran's outreach to the West.

"There are those who would prefer that we not hold this news conference here today, they feel uncomfortable that we show what is really happening inside Iran," Netanyahu said. He spoke to a backdrop of the captured ship and the Israeli vessels involved in the operation along with the Israeli defense minister.

"Iran, a brutal regime, has not abandoned its deep involvement in terrorism, its systematic efforts to undermine peace and security throughout the Middle East and its ambition to destroy the state of Israel," Netanyahu said. "What is new is not Iran's deeds or its lies, but the desire of many in the international community to bury their heads in the sand."

The tough comments threatened to further strain Netanyahu's already tense relations with the European Union and the White House.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington that the U.S. is concerned about Iran's support for militants but that it is still focused on resolving the nuclear issue.

"There are remaining concerns we have about their terrorist activities, about -- or activities tied to terrorism, including the transfer, of course, of weapons, and -- as well as human rights abuses, and we'll continue to hold them accountable," she said.

Israel believes that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon, saying a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a threat to the existence of the Jewish state, citing Iranian calls for Israel's destruction, its development of long-range missiles and its support for hostile militant groups on Israel's borders. Iran denies that it is pursuing weapons technology.

Netanyahu has been an outspoken critic of the efforts by six world powers to negotiate a deal with Iran that would substantially scale back its nuclear program in exchange for ending international sanctions. He says a current, interim deal gives Iran too much relief while getting little in return, and fears a final agreement would leave the Islamic Republic with the capability to make a bomb.

Since last Wednesday's naval raid, Netanyahu has done his utmost to use persuade the world that the shipment revealed the "true face" of Iran.

As the raid was announced, the military released slick video presentations illustrating the circuitous 5,000-mile (8,000 kilometer) route the weapons had been meant to take -- starting in Syria, then to Iran and Iraq before heading toward Sudan and overland to Gaza -- along with clips showing naval commandos discovering the rockets far out at sea.

The government gave a hero's welcome to the returning commandos and released more videos when the seized ship, the KLOS C, arrived in Eilat over the weekend. To help ensure heavy coverage of Monday's event, the government organized a special flight for the media to make the trip to Eilat, a four-hour drive along treacherous, narrow roads from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

After the news conference, Netanyahu got on the bus carrying reporters and thanked them for covering the event.

Dozens of the green rockets were displayed on metal stands behind a podium where Netanyahu spoke. Stacks of bullets and plastic-wrapped mortar rounds lay nearby.

A military officer who greeted Netanyahu showed him what he said was a fraudulent bill of lading and other evidence he said linked the ship to Iran. Sacks of cement on the ship said "Made in I.R. Iran," and metal seals on the cargo appear to have been inspected by Iranian custom officials before they were loaded on the Panama-flagged KLOS C vessel.

"The weapons on this ship were destined for terrorists in Gaza who are committed to Israel's destruction. The goal was to have these weapons rain down on the heads of Israel's citizens," Netanyahu said. "The ship was organized by Iran, dispatched by Iran, financed by Iran. The missiles were loaded by Iran in Iran."

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