Senior Israeli security sources said yesterday that the Palestinian Authority was behind the attempted smuggling of dozens of weapons which was foiled by the Israeli Army on Friday near the northern part of the Dead Sea.

This is the largest case of weapons smuggling onto Israeli territory in many years. According to Israeli security sources, it has been definitively established that the Palestinian caught with the Zodiac boats in which the weapons and ammunition were smuggled from Jordan to Israel is not a member of a terrorist organization.

“Only the Palestinian Authority has the ability, the infrastructure and the money with which to carry out an operation of this magnitude, and all signs point to them as being behind the smuggling,” said the security sources. The sources noted the possibility that the smuggling was carried out as part of the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to arm itself in preparation for a possible armed conflict with Israel should the peace process remain frozen. “Criminals do not use this type of weaponry, and terror organizations do not use it in such quantities,” said one of the sources.

The smuggling was thwarted on Friday shortly after 8:00 pm when Israeli soldiers stationed at an observation post, whose task is to keep watch over the northern Dead Sea area, noticed “suspicious movements” in the water. A warning was transmitted to all the local villages, and Israeli army and police forces streamed into the area. Roadblocks were established along all the roads in the area and a police helicopter assisted in illuminating the scene.

Israeli soldiers conducted searches along the water, and with heightened alertness near Ein Pascha, where the vegetation is thicker. “We walked near the vegetation,” said one of the soldiers, “when suddenly a man emerged with his hands raised. He surrendered immediately and without a struggle.”

Other forces arrived at the scene and continued to search. Within a few minutes they had discovered two Zodiac boats containing a huge stockpile of weapons – 60 Kalachnikov rifles, one M-16, 7 hunting rifles, 39 pistols and a large amount of ammunition. The weapons were concealed in carton boxes, with each Kalachnikov carefully wrapped in nylon and every pistol packed individually. A change of clothing and a large quantity of food was found alongside the weapons.

Uzi Dayan, Commander of the Central Command, said yesterday that weapons are generally smuggled by criminal elements, “but this time we are examining the likelihood that the Palestinian Authority was the intended recipient of the weapons.”