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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

The Other Iranian Weapons Smuggling in the Middle East

Filed under: Iran, Iranian Terrorism, Israeli Security, The Middle East

Israel’s seizure of the Iranian weapons ship Klos-C near the Eritrean-Sudanese border in the Red Sea, with its cargo of advanced rockets and mortar shells, is only one example of how the Iranian regime uses the supply of arms in order to intervene in a variety of local wars in the Middle East. In May 2008, a former chief of staff of Bahrain gave an interview to the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat which compared Iran to “an octopus” whose tentacles were “rummaging around in Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Gaza and Bahrain.”

One indication of this destabilizing Iranian role is its supply of arms to a variety of regional insurgencies. In January 2013, the Yemeni armed forces, with the assistance of the U.S. Navy, stopped an Iranian arms ship carrying sophisticated Chinese surface-to-air missiles, C-4 explosives, and bomb-making equipment intended to help the Zayidi Shiite rebellion against the central government in Yemen. These same missiles had been found in 2008 to be used by Shiite militants in Iraq, and presumably were also supplied by Iran.

In February 2013, UN monitors reported Iranian and Yemeni links to arms supplies, including IEDs (improvised explosive devices), bound for the al-Shabaab in Somalia. In December 2013, the Bahraini Navy interdicted another Iranian arms ship carrying weapons and ammunition for the anti-government Shiite opposition in Bahrain.

Iranian cargo aircraft have been supplying Hizbullah for years through Damascus International Airport. They continue to re-supply Hizbullah, especially now, given its direct support for the embattled regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. The Iranians have also been active in maintaining land routes of supply to Syria via Turkey, where arms shipments have been stopped on a number of occasions, and to the Taliban in Afghanistan, which is adjacent to Iran’s eastern border.

The present negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 over Iran’s nuclear program have not even begun to address this Iranian activism across the Middle East, which continues unabated even under the presidency of Hassan Rouhani. It would seem to be completely unrealistic to reach any nuclear understandings with Tehran while branches of the Iranian armed forces, like the Qods Force of the Revolutionary Guards, are undermining the internal stability of states across the region. Israel’s interception of the Klos C has put this dilemma front and center for the Western powers to consider.

Iranian Weapons Smuggling

Iranian long-range rockets intercepted by the IDF in the Red Sea on March 5, 2014. (Photo: IDF Spokesperson)