HERZLIYA, Israel – The U.S. Navy is conducting covert operations aimed at intercepting Iranian ships carrying weapons to rearm Hamas in the Gaza Strip, informed defense officials told WND.

The setup, which has already halted a vessel carrying Iranian munitions in recent days, acts on intelligence information provided by Israel, Egypt and Cyprus, the defense officials said.

The U.S. Navy refused to comment, but informed sources said the U.S. last week intercepted an Iranian-owned vessel found to be carrying weapons, including rockets, mortar and artillery shells. It is suspected the ship was attempting to reach the Egyptian Sinai area. If successful, the delivery would have represented a major escalation by providing Hamas with artillery, something the terrorist organization is not thought to possess.

The ship is now docked at an Egyptian port on the Red Sea after being escorted by the U.S. Navy out of the Suez Canal, which leads to the Mediterranean, the defense officials said. Due to complicated maritime laws, the U.S. and Egypt may let the ship sail to the Mediterranean, where either Israeli or Egyptian naval units would need to decide whether to entirely halt the vessel.

According to the sources, aside from patrolling the seas, the U.S. has also sent the Army’s Corps of Engineers to the Egyptian Sinai desert, bringing with them advanced machinery to help Egyptian troops locate weapons smuggling tunnels that snake along the Egypt-Gaza border.

Last week, WND broke the story of Egyptian troops undergoing training in Texas on the use of American military technology to uncover Hamas’ weapons smuggling tunnels. A top Egyptian intelligence official told WND the Egyptian troops arrived in Texas in recent days, where they have been undergoing private courses on the use of proprietary, secretive U.S. technology that makes use of sonar and certain frequencies to locate underground tunnels along the Egypt-Gaza border.

The WND story was referenced in scores of Arab-language articles this past weekend, including an article in the state-run Egyptian media, which did not deny the report.

The new naval patrols and U.S. presence along the Gaza border comes in line with a memorandum of understanding signed between Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The deal aims to curb Hamas rearmament and also includes patrols of the Persian Gulf, Sudan, and neighboring states.

One of Israel’s main goals for its offensive was to halt Hamas’ ability to smuggle weapons across the Egypt-Gaza border.

Israel is negotiating an international monitoring mechanism it hopes will stop Hamas from smuggling weapons from neighboring Egypt into Gaza. But previous international monitors stationed along the Egypt-Gaza border fled their duty and repeatedly failed to stem Hamas’ weapons smuggling.

The monitors were stationed at the border following Israel’s 2005 evacuation of the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces reportedly destroyed 60 to 70 percent of an estimated 600 smuggling tunnels between Gaza and neighboring Egypt.

Hamas sources speaking to WND claim the actual number of tunnels is closer to 1,300. The sources claimed Hamas was working to change the method of its weapons smuggling to rely more on sea shipments and less on smuggling tunnels.

Last Tuesday, the Associated Press reported from the Egypt-Gaza border that just hours after Israeli troops withdrew from the border area, the smuggling tunnels were back in business, used by locals to bring in supplies.

The AP also reported hundreds of workers in southern Gaza labored to repair dozens of tunnels dug under tents or fake greenhouses.


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