ON JANUARY 3, in the clouds high above the waters of the Red Sea, Lt. General Shaul Mofaz, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, peered anxiously through a specially designed telescopic lens at an old, rusty, blue freighter several kilometers below. For the previous three months, Israeli intelligence had tracked the boat from its purchase in Lebanon to its current position in international waters between Saudi Arabia and Sudan, heading toward the Suez Canal. Operation "Noah's Ark"--the plan to intercept the ship on the high seas--was given the go-ahead. But so nervous was Mofaz that he might authorize an unwarranted attack hundreds of kilometers from his country's territorial waters, he himself needed to confirm the letters hand-painted on the side of the ship. It was, as intelligence had said it would be, the Karine-A. Within minutes, Israeli naval commandos operating from both sea and air boarded the ship, surprised the crew, and took control without firing a shot.
What they found in the cargo hold, beneath crates of cheap textiles, sunglasses and other freight, was stunning: scores of professionally manufactured submersible containers that held enough weapons and explosives to supply a small army. The fifty-ton arsenal included dozens of 122 mm and 107 mm Katyusha rockets with ranges of twenty and eight kilometers respectively; hundreds of shorter-range 81 mm rockets; numerous mortars, SAGGER and RPG 18 anti-tank missiles, sniper rifles, AK-47 assault rifles and mines. The rockets and mortars were of Russian, Chinese, North Korean and Iranian origin. Some were advanced munitions, such as the VR7 anti-tank warhead, capable of penetrating the armor of main-battle tanks. Perhaps most ominously, the boat held about 3,000 pounds of C4 explosive, enough for about 300 suicide bombs--three times more than all the suicide bombers Israel has faced in its entire history.