Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks with Minister of Intelligence Yuval Steinitz (R) during the weekly cabinet meeting on February 16, 2014 in Jerusalem
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks with Minister of Intelligence Yuval Steinitz (R) during the weekly cabinet meeting on February 16, 2014 in Jerusalem © Abir Sultan - POOL/AFP/File
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks with Minister of Intelligence Yuval Steinitz (R) during the weekly cabinet meeting on February 16, 2014 in Jerusalem
AFP
Last updated: March 9, 2014

Israel slams Ashton's Iran trip after "arms ship" found

A senior Israeli minister lashed out Sunday at EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton for visiting Tehran after the interception of a ship allegedly carrying arms from Iran to Gaza.

"I would expect Catherine Ashton to cancel or at least postpone her visit to Tehran," said Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz.

"The Iranian regime has been caught here in a severe act of smuggling large missiles to a terror organisation, while violating all the UN decisions placing an arms embargo on and from Iran," he told public radio.

"At this time to go and speak with the Iranians as if nothing happened, is something that should be avoided," he said.

The Israeli army was on Sunday busy unloading a ship it intercepted in the Red Sea last week which it said was carrying an Iranian shipment of M-302 rockets destined for the Gaza Strip which is controlled by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.

Ashton's visit to Tehran, the first by a EU foreign affairs chief since 2008, comes after Iran signed a preliminary deal in November with world powers under which it agreed to curb its disputed nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

Earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran of "brazenly lying" over its involvement in the shipment, which Tehran flatly denied, in remarks he said were directed at Ashton.

"I'd like to ask her if she asked her Iranian hosts about the delivery of weapons to the terror groups, and if she didn't, why not?" he said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

"Nobody has the right to ignore the real, murderous actions of the regime in Tehran," he added.

The prime minister said Israel would show evidence linking the shipment to Iran on Monday, when the weapons will be put on display at a news conference in Eilat which he himself will give.

Israel was harshly critical of the interim nuclear agreement with Iran and is pushing hard for world powers to keep a series of crippling economic sanctions in place.

The West and Israel have long suspected Iran of using its nuclear energy programme as a cover for developing atomic weapons, a charge denied by the Islamic republic.

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