The US is trying to hire a merchant ship that can carry hundreds of tons of weapons from Greece to Israel later this month; Reuters reported citing tender documents it had obtained.
According to the US Navy’s Military Sealift Command (MSC), the ship will transport 325 standard 20-foot containers of what has been called ‘ammunition’ from the Greek port of Astakos to the Israeli port of Ashdod on two separate trips in the second half of January.
A description on the manifest says the containers will be loaded with ‘hazardous material’, such as explosive substances and detonators, without giving any more details.
The Pentagon announced the tender for the ship in the last hours of 2008. The two deadlines set for the deliveries are January 25 and the last day of the month.
Meanwhile, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed the planned arms shipment to Israel, but denied that the delivery was linked to the Israel’s deadly offensive in Gaza.
“This previously scheduled shipment is routine and not in support of the current situation in Gaza,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Patrick Ryder.
However, a senior military analyst in London, who wished to remain unnamed, said the timing of the shipments shows that they may be ‘irregular’ and linked to the military operation in Gaza.
The tender for the ship followed a December US arms delivery to Israel, which was also carried out by a merchant ship.
This is while shipping brokers in London who have carried out weapon deliveries for the British and US military in the past say that shipment of such a large cargo of weapons to Israel is rare.
“Shipping 3,000-odd tons of ammunition in one go is a lot… this is pretty rare and we haven’t seen much of it quoted in the market over the years,” one broker said, on condition of anonymity.
Tender documents indicate that the German ship hired by the US in early December also carried a massive cargo of weapons that weighed over 2.6 million kg and filled up to 989 standard 20-foot containers to Ashdod from North Carolina.
In September, the US Congress approved a plan to sell Israel 1,000 bunker-buster bombs, of the Guided Bomb Unit-39 (GBU-39), that use GPS to find their way and are able to penetrate deep fortified constructions, such as Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Last week, The Jerusalem Post, reported that the first shipment of the missiles arrived in early December, adding that the bombs had been used in the military onslaught in Gaza.
So far, Israel’s 15-day offensive in the besieged Palestinian enclave has claimed the lives of more than 800 Palestinians and wounded almost 3500.
Hamas on the other hand says Palestinian fighters have so far killed at least 30 Israeli soldiers and wounded more than 80 others.