" Israel has no choice but to snap this ship up and either bring it to Israel or sink it on the spot or they could use it for torpedo or tomahawk practice for their subs in the area ! Either way the Iranians will push for Hezbolla attacks across the Lebonese border and many more Hamas rockets from Gaza" !

Israel informed Washington, Cairo and Nicosia that surface missiles bound for Hamas are concealed in the steel holds of the Cypriot-flagged Iran Hedayt which the US intercepted but did not stop in the Red Sea last week.

DEBKAfile's military sources report that after neither the US nor Egypt laid hands on the cargo when they had the chance, Cyprus finds itself stuck Saturday, Jan 31, with hard choices: the US and Israel are pressing Nicosia not to let the ship go without a further search for fear Israel will seize it and precipitate an armed clash with Iran. Tehran on the other hand threatens Nicosia with diplomatic and economic retribution if the vessel is not released forthwith.

Friday, Cyprus president Demetris Christofias said a ship anchored off Limassol was being searched carrying cargo that contravenes UN resolutions. Cyprus state radio reported the vessel may have been traveling from Iran to Syria with weapons destined for Hamas.

Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni informed Nicosia that the cargo aboard the Iran Hedayt contravened the UN Security Council Resolution 1747 which forbids Iran to export arms under international sanctions.

But foreign minister Markos Kyprianou later backpedalled by saying the authorities were still trying to determine if the ship's cargo contravenes United Nations resolutions.

After Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said on Jan. 28 that the US Navy had no authority to seize the weapons aboard the Iranian vessel "The US did as much as we could" - Nicosia too is reviewing its options.

As the arms vessel made its way from Bandar Abbas to the Red Sea, tracked by DEBKAfile's sources from Jan. 20, Jerusalem counted on the Livni-Rice memorandum of understanding for a joint effort to stop Iranian arms smuggling to Hamas kicking in. There was a precedent.

On Dec. 2, 2002, American warships helped two Spanish warships halt a North Korean cargo vessel and confiscate Scud missiles bound for Saddam Hussein hidden beneath sacks of cement.

But the Iranian cargo for Hamas was not touched and the ship was allowed to proceed.

Jerusalem is watching tensely now to see what the Cypriots do next. If they let the arms ship go without confiscating the missiles aboard, Tehran will be encouraged to send more arms ships to Hamas and the entire international effort to stop Hamas rearming, which was implicit in Israel's unilateral ceasefire, will cave in before it ever took off.