The Silent Chase: Tracking ‘Karin A’ – A Transcontinental Thriller of Espionage and Subterfuge

Red Sea Showdown: How Israel's Special Forces Seized 'The Singer' Packed with Deadly Payload.

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

During the second intifada, a young naval intelligence officer at the Israeli Qiriya military base gets important information that leads to a ship with a lot of deadly weapons. Iran is the sender. Yasser Arafat is the recipient. The plan is to use it against Israel to keep the intifada going.

Details of the covert operation ‘Noha’s Ark’ conducted by Israeli and American intelligence that resulted in the finding of the weapons ship “Karin A” were first made public by the newspaper “Yedioth Ahronoth.” Israel asserted that it was purchased to use it to oppose the occupation by the late President Yasser Arafat.

The Yedioth piece, written by Alex Fishman, covered a conversation between a senior Palestinian official and a Hezbollah leader in Lebanon that Israel intercepted. In the conversation, the leaders referred to the weapon smuggling ship as “Bayt” (Home). According to the article, the ship was found two months after the search, thanks partly to American satellites. As a result, the operation “Nahshon Ghahmon” was started off the coast of Yemen; the Yemeni Jews have a traditional dish called “Ghahmon.”

According to the report, Lieutenant Anat oversaw a task group researching the naval forces of the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinians in the summer of 2001, two months after completing her intelligence school. The mission was highly confidential and covert and fell within the purview of naval intelligence. Its mission was to filter through material from all Israeli intelligence agencies or those available to it to produce a mosaic of those points to grasp the enemy’s thinking. Anat was able to gather information that led to the interception of the weapons ship Karin A, which was sailing from Iran to Gaza with 54 tonnes of weapons and ammunition.

Officer Anat told Yedioth that she discovered evidence on her computer, including a quote from a chat between Adel Al-Maghribi, the Fatah smuggling operations officer in Egypt at the time. Al-Maghribi attempted to buy a ship from a Hezbollah leader who had previously had links with the Palestinian Authority. Both were well-known in Israel.

Anat goes on to say that intelligence followed the two men’s travels and eavesdropped on their discussions for two months until they received critical information from a Hezbollah member. He revealed that they had successfully purchased a ship, explaining that the conversation had been encrypted up to that point, with the word “Bayt” (house) referring to the ship and “Alayat” (mechanisms) referring to the fishing boats that would transport weapons from Alexandria after arriving aboard the “Karin A” and then being thrown onto the shores of Gaza.

The “golden information” collected by Israel in August 2001 signalled the beginning of a military and intelligence operation that lasted until December 5, 2001. During this time, they learned the ship’s name and its path and realised they were dealing with the largest smuggling enterprise of its kind.

According to the Yedioth article, the “Iranian-Palestinian plot” sought to outfit Palestinian forces in the Gaza Strip to launch missiles at “southern Israeli cities.” This occurred at the height of the Second Intifada and the wave of fidayeen actions.

She goes on to say that the new front was expected to be a watershed moment due to the use of heavy weapons, and Arafat was pushed to rely on Iran. Confirming that the “Karin A” discovery caused a strategic shift in Washington and Europe’s understanding of Arafat’s role in the Second Intifada, allowing Israel to support the invasion of the West Bank in the “Defensive Wall” operation.

According to the Yedioth story, the details are traced back to May 2001, three months before Officer Anat’s discovery. According to the article, the chain of events that led to the discovery of the ship began in May when the Israeli Air Force intercepted a fishing boat going from Lebanon with military material intended to fuel the revolt. The investigation revealed details about the smuggling network and the people involved.

According to the investigation’s findings, Fuad Shubaki was in charge of the Palestinian side of the network. According to the article, he was the General Financial Director for Palestinian security agencies at the time, acting as Arafat’s deal-making arm.

There was also General Fathi Al-Razem, Deputy Chief of the Naval Police, and Adel Al-Maghribi, the person in charge of Fatah’s weapons smuggling activities. Said Azidi was in charge of the Iranian side, and Basem Al-Lubnani represented Hezbollah.

Then, in the summer of 2001, Israeli intelligence learned of a meeting between members of the Palestinian smuggling network, Iranian Revolutionary Guard representatives, and Lebanese Hezbollah members. However, Israeli intelligence did not obtain any definitive conclusions.

At the time, discussions headed by Israeli Defence Forces Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz evaluated assessments indicating that the Palestinians’ failure to smuggle weapons through the confiscated Lebanese fishing boat led them to focus on supporting Hezbollah in its smuggling attempts. This time, it would be a larger ship instead of a fishing boat. Meanwhile, Israel learned that Iran was working on a small submarine for Hezbollah, which would be used to carry weapons from “Karin A” to Gaza.

Israeli intelligence organisations (Mossad, Shin Bet, and Military Intelligence) tracked Palestinian naval police officers and identified the sailors led by Omar Al-Aqawi. Al-Aqawi also hired eight Egyptian sailors without alerting them about the ship’s contents. Israeli intelligence discovered that the Palestinian and Egyptian sailors were on their way to Yemen.

At this time, the international branch of Israeli naval intelligence attempted to identify the ship they were looking for. It was later found that the Palestinian seamen had been looking for a suitable ship for three months before purchasing one for $800,000. Since then, Israel has referred to “Karin A” as “The Singer.”

According to the Yedioth article, the intercept of “Karin A” would not have been possible without close collaboration between Israeli naval intelligence and its American counterpart, which operated in areas where Israel did not at the time. Israel wished for the US Navy to intercept the ship, but they did not, despite their assistance in carrying out the interception operation and seizing control of the vessel.

“Karin A” arrived in the Arabian Gulf in early December 2001, while Israeli intelligence assumed it was in the port of Dubai. The ship was loaded with weaponry in an Iranian port before sailing to the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea. During that time, Israel lacked constant tracking capabilities in the Pacific Ocean, making it difficult to secure the raid’s planning and seize control of the ship. The Americans used satellites and reconnaissance aircraft to monitor it.

The ship vanished off the coast of Yemen, but the Americans tracked it down weeks later, just as it set sail from the Yemeni port of Hodeidah for the Suez Canal, with the weapons hidden beneath civilian cargo. At this point, the report’s author, Fishman, stated that a recently published book, “Drama in the Heart of the Red Sea,” written by retired General Amos Gilboa, has vital data about the ship’s seizure.

On January 3, 2002, Israel announced the seizure of the ship, stating it carried 50 tonnes of advanced weapons such as missiles, launchers, rockets, bombs, various mines, anti-tank missiles such as “Sager,” sophisticated explosive materials such as C4, rubber boats, diving tools, machine guns, and rockets.


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