The nature of the Iranian cargo seized in July, a Bahamas-flagged cargo vessel called the ANL Australia, has raised fears that Iran is ramping up efforts to arm itself and anti-Israel militias in the Middle East the Washington Post reported Thursday. Israeli officials have warned that they may use force to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
The seizure was carried out in accordance with tough new UN Security Council sanctions meant to derail North Korea's nuclear weapons program, but which also ban the North's sale of any conventional arms.
"We can confirm that the UAE detained a North Korean vessel containing illicit cargo," a Western diplomat told the AP.
The freighter seized in this port enclave was one of five ships caught this year carrying large, secret caches of weapons apparently intended for the Hizbullah, Hamas, and a wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps that supports terrorist activity in Iraq, according to US and UN officials and intelligence analysts.
A US intelligence official familiar with the UAE episode acknowledged that US spies "played a key role" in tracking the shipment, but he declined to elaborate.
In three cases, the contraband included North Korean- or Chinese-made components for rockets such as the 122mm Grad, which has a range of up to 25 miles and which Hamas and Hizbullah have fired into Israel.
Among the weapons components discovered aboard the ANL Australia were 2,030 detonators for 122mm rockets, as well as electric circuitry and a large quantity of solid-fuel propellant, according to an account that UAE and UN Security Council officials gave the Washington Post.
In yet another attempted smuggling incident, an Israeli raid on a ship in the eastern Mediterranean, The Arctic Sea was allegedly hijacked in the Baltic Sea in late July after leaving a Finnish port. Russian navy vessels intercepted the ship weeks later off Cape Verde, thousands of kilometers from the Algerian port where it was purportedly supposed to deliver a load of timber.
The surge in smuggling is a direct challenge to the Security Council, which is convening a special panel this month to review Iranian violations of UN resolutions banning such weapons shipments.
UN and US officials say sanctions adopted by the world body against Iran appear to be having little effect, and Iranian leaders continue to defend their right to aid groups they call "fighters in the path of God."
Former UN nuclear inspector David Albright told the Washington Post that because of international sanctions, Iran and North Korea have been forced to buy and sell military-related technology through clandestine means. Albright is president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a nonprofit research group in Washington.
Using such schemes, and employing a network of front companies, Iran has managed to obtain key technology and equipment for advanced missiles as well as a sophisticated nuclear program.
"These networks have spread like the Internet, and as they get bigger, they get even harder to destroy," Albright told the Washington Post. "They use fronts to obtain all kinds of technology from major suppliers, including Europe, Russia, China and the United States."
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