JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The Israeli navy seized a ship in the Red Sea on Wednesday that was carrying dozens of advanced Iranian-supplied rockets made in Syria that were intended for Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, the military said.
It said the Panamanian-flagged cargo vessel Klos-C was boarded in international waters without resistance from its 17-strong crew, and would be escorted to the Israeli port of Eilat within days.
"It was a complex, covert operation," military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said of the seizure some 1,000 miles from Israel.
Dozens of M302 rockets were found aboard the Klos-C, a weapon which could have struck deep into Israel from Gaza and would have significantly enhanced the firepower of Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas.
"The M302 in its most advanced model can strike over 100 miles, and if they would have reached Gaza, ultimately that would have meant millions of Israelis under threat," said Lerner.
Israeli television footage showed what appeared to be marines inspecting a rocket on the floor of a ship hold, with cement bags labeled "Made in Iran" in English next to it.
Lerner said the rockets were flown from Syria to Iran, from which they were shipped first to Iraq and then toward Sudan. Had they reached the African coast, they would have probably been smuggled overland through Egypt to Gaza, he said.
Iran had orchestrated the shipment, Lerner said, describing the process as months in the making.
The maritime tracking site marinetraffic.com showed the last position of the Klos C as the Oman Gulf on February 22.
Lerner said the crew came from a number of different countries and there was no immediate indication that they knew the nature of their cargo.
(This version of the story corrects information on Israeli footage of ship hold)
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Crispian Balmer)