One aspect of the Israeli Navy’s intercept of 500 tons of military ordinance bound for Hezbollah is the disturbing fact that massive shipments of undeclared weapons are still regularly smuggled through civilian ports in a post-9/11 world.
On the night of November 3, the Israeli Navy asked for and received permission from the captain to board and investigate cargo on the Francop, an Antiguan-flagged ship. On that ship they found 500 tons of ammunition, artillery shells, rockets, and explosives.
Among the munitions captured by the Israeli Navy were Iranian 107mm rockets nearly identical to those captured near a U.S. forward operating base in Iraq in 2007. Sources presently in Iraq claim that these rockets are still in constant use against American troops and have killed and wounded U.S. soldiers in their bases as recently as several weeks ago.
How did the Francop come to be carrying 36 containers filled with hidden weapons of war? Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Yossi Gal led a briefing on November 5 that went largely ignored by the media, a briefing that tracked this deadly shipment from its origins until its capture.
The shipment originated in Iran aboard the Visea, a ship owned by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL). The Visea left the port city of Bandar Abbas with its shipment of weapons in the beginning of October. It was unloaded on October 26 by unsuspecting dock workers in the Egyptian port city of Damietta. The cargo was transferred to the Francop, where it was listed on the manifest as more than 24,000 bags of polyethylene plastic. It was intercepted a week later.
Like the captain and crew of the Francop, Egypt is a victim of Iran’s efforts to arm terrorists. Because the cargo was poorly secured in commercial shipping containers with only the flimsy cover of bags of plastic, there was no way Egyptian port workers knew that they were handling hundreds of tons of high explosives, rocket propellants, fuses, and ammunition. And such a potentially deadly scenario could occur in almost any nation, including our own.
As Yossi Heiman, an Israeli general, noted during the briefing:
Those containers could be on board any merchant ship in any port around the world. We are sure that the crew of the ship didn’t know anything about what they were carrying on board. When the captain saw what he was carrying, he started to sweat and didn’t understand how he had those containers on board his ship. And of course we are sure that the Port of Dumyat didn’t know anything about those explosives being carried and transferred inside the port.
When you deal with those kinds of explosives, you have to be very careful. Each one of us understands that. There is the issue of keeping it an insulated area, the way that it’s transported, and everything connected with how to deal with it. When you deal with those containers without any precautions at all, they can explode almost anywhere. And any one of your ships could carry one of those containers one day, and any one of your ports could deal with those explosives. And that’s the main issue here, that there are a lot of resolutions. When you are dealing with a terrorist group smuggling something, we can handle that, but when you are dealing with a country that has a full organization to send arms and explosives as civilian cargo, a lot of innocent people could be hurt anywhere and it can affect each one of us.
The Francop is by no means the first ship loaded with Iranian arms to be intercepted on its way to deliver munitions to terrorists.
The Monchegorsk had 98 containers of Iranian weapons removed from it earlier this year that were thought be destined for Hamas and Hezbollah. Also this year, U.S. troops boarded the German-owned Hansa India and found eight containers filled with small arms ammunition for Syria, where weapons and ammunition are routinely smuggled to Hezbollah in Lebanon and to terrorist groups in Iraq.
And these are just three of the seaborne smuggling operations where Iranian weapons were intercepted; no one knows how many thousands of tons of deadly cargo Iran secretly slips through the world’s ports in a given year. With the global reach of IRISL, shell organizations, and chartered shipping, the rogue state can easily transfer arms anywhere on the globe. Yet at this time few nations seem willing to confront Iran, despite the shipping being in direct contravention of numerous UN resolutions.
The international community has the capability of severely hampering the Iranian regime by taking strong steps against them, but it appears no nation has the fortitude to stop Iran. The world would rather allow Iranian power and influence to become an existential threat than face the wrath of their fury in the present. And while it probably doesn’t need to be said, you can include the United States among those nations that will fiddle while Iran practices to make the world burn. The Obama administration, already routinely criticized for a lackluster and feckless foreign policy, just appointed noted Iranian apologist John Limbert as the senior Iran official at the State Department.
What would finally force countries to act against Iran’s continued support of terrorism? The world would rather pretend that Iranian weapons smuggling isn’t a threat. We can only hope that continued inaction doesn’t come back to haunt us in the form of dead innocents.