Category Archives: Conventional arms

Best of Intentions, Ctd.

So do you recall the “U.S.-Israel MOU from back in January”:

bq. The United States will work with regional and NATO partners to address the problem of the supply of arms and related materiel and weapons transfers and shipments to Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza, including through the Mediterranean, Gulf of Aden, Red Sea and eastern Africa, through improvements in existing arrangements or the launching of new initiatives to increase the effectiveness of those arrangements as they relate to the prevention of weapons smuggling to Gaza.

Based on “the publicized results so far”:, it didn’t amount to much. So if NATO isn’t going to stop Iranian-made rockets and other “locally strategic” weapons from reaching Gaza, who is?

Well, according to the Khartoum correspondent of _Al-Shuruq Al-Jadid_,* an Egyptian newspaper, _somebody_ started taking action back in January, destroying a convoy of arms-laden trucks on a mountain road near Port Sudan. That would be the United States:

bq. An official source has stated that the US fighter aircraft that carried out the raid were stationed in a number of regional countries. The sources believe it is highly likely that the fighter planes took off from Eritrea or Djibouti.

(The “Sudan Tribune”: summarizes the story in English.)

But now comes CBS News, “crediting Israel”: with the attack. The sourcing’s pretty sketchy, but the story’s not entirely implausible. And Israeli officials “didn’t deny it”:

As of today, _Al-Shuruq Al-Jadid_* has more on the story, but you have to wonder about some of it, really:

A fresh US raid on Eastern Sudan targeted trucks said to be loaded with weapons headed for Sinai in preparation for smuggling via tunnels into the Gaza Strip. According to informed Sudanese sources, the bombardment continued until yesterday morning.

Awad Mubarak, assistant secretary general of the Eastern Front, pointed out that bombardment of smuggling points started almost two months ago and that it continues until this time. He revealed that the raids have claimed the lives of 300 Sudanese people. According to Awad Mubarak, the sons of the Eastern parts engage in smuggling and trading in weapons to make money and address the problem of “lacking development.”

If fact, this latest report could be a sort of provocation, as _Al-Shuruq Al-Jadid_’s* Rafidah Yasin points out:

bq. Commenting on the reasons behind leaking such reports (on the US raids) after shrouding them in secrecy for a long time, an informed source in Khartoum pointed out that the Sudanese president is trying to mobilize Arab and Islamic public opinion and rally support against the ICC decision to arrest him on the charge of committing war crimes in Darfour, by giving the impression that the United States wishes to punish him for helping the HAMAS movement.

Would that the U.S. media were always equally frank about how they were being manipulated.

For whatever it’s worth, my money is on “CJTF-HOA”: Call it an educated guess, nothing more.

[Update: U.S. Africa Command has “denied any involvement”: ABC News has a “single anonymous U.S. source”: saying there have been three strikes so far, and attributing them all to Israel. The NY Times has “two anonymous U.S. sources”: Regardless, the “head of the Shin Bet”: says that nothing has really made much of a dent in arms smuggling into Gaza.]

*[Update 2: The newspaper in question is more familiarly known as Al-Shorouk Al-Gadid.]

[Update 3: Here come the London papers. The Sunday Times has a version now, and remember, just because “Uzi Mahnaimi”: reports it doesn’t mean it’s always completely false. Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat has a “version”:, too. But back here in America, Time Magazine’s version is “probably the most trustworthy”:,8599,1888352,00.html. Looks like my guess was wrong. Sorry, CJTF-HOA.]

Best of Intentions

The final communiqué of a London conference on preventing arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip is “here”:

The partner countries have agreed to do a number of good and worthy things, but stopping ships at sea “isn’t necessarily one of them”:

A senior British diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government policy said the nine countries agreed that “non-coercive” methods would be used to clamp down on the arms flow.

That means, he said, that any vessel whose captain refuses to allow the ship to be boarded for an inspection will not be forced to submit to the procedure.

Alas, as anticipated, it’s “PSI Part Deux”: If it doesn’t involve the “Russians”: or the Chinese — all of the permanent members of the Security Council, in fact — then it’s just a sort of embroidery on existing authorities and arrangements.

Oh, and if North Korea launches a rocket, “South Korea may consider finally joining PSI”: Good to know.

You know that saying, “It’s the thought that counts”? It isn’t.

Exercising Vigilance

The “plot”: thickens. According to “various”: “reports”:, the _Monchegorsk,_ the vessel carrying unspecified weapons from Iran, now sitting in the Cypriot port of Limassol, is–as its name suggests–Russian-owned.

This is surely old news to readers more attentive than Yours Truly, but of interest because it raises the (usual) questions about the interest and ability of national authorities to enforce UNSC sanctions resolutions against Iran. According to the “Cyprus Mirror”:,

According to diplomatic sources, Cyprus requests from the UN Sanctions Committee to assess whether the findings of the inspections lie within the provisions of the Security Council Resolutions on Iran (1696/2006, 1737/2006,1747/2007 and 1803/2008), and seeks its recommendations on how to proceed with the issue.

Without taking the trouble to re-read all of these, I’m pretty sure we can narrow it down to “1747”:, which

5. Decides that Iran shall not supply, sell or transfer directly or indirectly from its territory or by its nationals or using its flag vessels or aircraft any arms or related materiel, and that all States shall prohibit the procurement of such items from Iran by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in the territory of Iran;

I haven’t seen any mention of the nationality of the crew. But you get the point. Hey, have you heard the one about a Russian merchant vessel carrying arms from Iran to Gaza in the middle of a war with Israel?

Hmm… maybe not so funny.

Clif Burns calls it the “hot boat-ato”: That _is_ funny, unless you happen to be the Cypriot authorities.

On an unrelated note, the arms-laden Ukrainian vessel “MV Faina”: has been ransomed from Somali pirates. Finally.

Here’s your “musical bonus”: Enjoy.

PSI Part Deux: Red Sea Regatta

The AP reports that representatives of ten Western countries have just spent “two days in Copenhagen”: to discuss “an international naval force to stem the flow of smuggled arms to Gaza.”

Experts from the U.S., Canada and eight European countries met in Copenhagen to discuss ways to stop arms smuggling to the Hamas-controlled territory. No decision was taken but an international naval force was one of the options on the table, said Michael Zilmer-Johns, a senior diplomat at the Danish Foreign Ministry.

“This is one of the tools that might be considered,” he told reporters after the meeting ended. “There’s a problem and there’s a need to solve it.”

Israel and the European Union sent observers to the workshop, while Egypt declined an invitation. Organizers gave no reason.

This comes on the heels of an attempt by the U.S. Navy to detain a Cypriot-flagged ship sailing from Iran in the Red Sea. “Per Reuters”:

The Cyprus-flagged Monchegorsk has been docked off the Mediterranean island for almost a week as authorities check its cargo. The United States, which earlier boarded the ship in the Red Sea, said its navy found weapons on board which it could not confiscate for legal reasons.

Without the happenstance of the vessel steaming past the shores of Cyprus while flying its flag, it seems there would have been little ground for further action. According to “David Eshel at AvWeek’s Ares blog”:, the ship had set out under other colors entirely:

According to unofficial intelligence reports, the _Iran Shahed_ set out from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas Dec. 29, the second day of the Gaza conflict, changing its identity several times until hoisting a Cypriot flag.


On Thursday afternoon, though, as the ship passed 100 km. off the coast of the Cyprus port of Limassol, it was stopped by the Cypriot Navy, which was legally allowed to intercept it since it was flying a Cypriot flag. Cyprus’s decision to intercept the ship, officials said, was made after the United States and several European countries applied pressure on the government in Nicosia. The officials said that the ship was believed to be carrying a number of shipping containers packed with weaponry.

It sounds like dumb luck and fast thinking won the day. Is that the plan for the future?

The Copenhagen meeting seems to represent partial fulfillment of the mid-January “U.S.-Israel MOU whose text popped up in _Ha’aretz_”: The bit in question:

2. The United States will work with regional and NATO partners to address the problem of the supply of arms and related materiel and weapons transfers and shipments to Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza, including through the Mediterranean, Gulf of Aden, Red Sea and eastern Africa, through improvements in existing arrangements or the launching of new initiatives to increase the effectiveness of those arrangements as they relate to the prevention of weapons smuggling to Gaza. Among the tools that will be pursued are:

* Enhanced U.S. security and intelligence cooperation with regional governments on actions to prevent weapons and explosives flows to Gaza that originate in or transit their territories; including through the involvement of relevant components of the U.S. Government, such as U.S. Central Command, U.S. European Command, U.S. Africa Command, and U.S. Special Operations Command.

* Enhanced intelligence fusion with key international and coalition naval forces and other appropriate entities to address weapons supply to Gaza;

* Enhancement of the existing international sanctions and enforcement mechanisms against provision of material support to Hamas and other terrorist organizations, including through an international response to those states, such as Iran, who are determined to be sources of weapons and explosives supply to Gaza.

Now, you might be asking, why does all this sound so familiar? Because it’s “PSI, Part Deux”:

That endeavor, you might recall, also came on the heels of the catch-and-release of a maritime arms shipment, in this case “North Korea’s _So San_”:

A couple of semi-deep thoughts present themselves:

First, in the right (wrong?) geographic and political setting, mundane artillery rockets turn out to be true strategic weapons, the stuff of serious international concern even if they don’t quality as “WMD.”

Second, the failure to create a strong legal architecture for interdiction is still being felt. The entire idea of PSI was to get something (by way of cooperation) for nothing (by way of binding commitments). This false start may explain, in part, why UNSCR 1540 hasn’t really gotten off the ground, as “Aaron Arnold”: and “Elizabeth Turpen”: discussed back in August.

It’s early yet, but let’s hope it works out better this time around.

_(Bonus points if you recognized the origins of the phrase “Red Sea Regatta”:,M1.)_

Update: Here’s a “musical bonus that seems fitting”: