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Mystery Surrounds Hijacking of Russian Ship

Russia has retrieved its Arctic Sea shipping vessel that was hijacked and charged the offenders. The story doesn’t end there, though, as reports continue to surface alleging the “hijacking” were Israeli operatives sent to intercept missiles headed to Iran.. Other reports indicate the Russians staged their own hijacking after being notified of the ship’s contents by Israel. Regardless of who the hijackers were, they have thwarted a shipment of weapons that would have raised the stakes in the region for Israel and possibly even provoked military conflict.

On July 24, the Arctic Sea was hijacked by eight individuals while it was in the Baltic Sea, headed for Algeria carrying less than $2 million worth of timber. It was retrieved by the Russians on August 17 near Cape Verde. The authorities have released minimal information about the hijackers, except to say they are in custody and being charged with kidnapping and piracy. The crew members won’t talk, saying they were told by officials that doing so would compromise “state secrets.”

The attention surrounding the ship’s hijacking heightened after the Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper that has had more than a handful of its journalists killed after investigating the misdeeds of officials, reported that the ship was transporting X-55 cruise missiles and the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system. The ship’s stop for “repairs” at Kaliningrad, the residence of a major Russian naval base that would house such missiles, may have provided a cover for such weaponry to be placed in a secret holding spot. The Iranians and Syrians have long talked about acquiring such arms, which present a severe threat to Israel.

The X-55 cruise missiles have a range of about 1,550 miles, putting Israel in Iran’s crosshairs, and are capable of carrying payloads with weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear warheads. It is not believed that Iran currently has the long-range bombers necessary to launch such a weapon at this time.

The S-300 is an advanced air defense system that would severly hamper the ability of the Israeli Air Force to launch air strikes on Iranian nuclear targets. It can track up to 100 targets, and engage a dozen of them, downing aircraft up to 27,000 meters in the sky. It would result in the Israelis losing 20 to 30 percent of the aircraft involved in a potential strike on Iran, assuming that the Israelis don’t have a secret way of disabling the system. One Israeli Air Force source said that the system would result in increasing Israeli casualties in such a strike by 50 percent. For this reason, experts like Pentagon advisor Dan Goure have described the S-300 as a “game changer” in the Middle East.

The report claimed that the hijackers were really working for the Israeli Mossad, sent to intercept the ship’s contents, and pointed to President Peres’ trip to Moscow the day after the Russians retrieved the ship, which was described as a surprise visit. Prime Minister Netanyahu is also reported to have made a secret visit to Moscow to discuss Russian arms sales to Iran and Syria, explaining his sudden absence.

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