BERLIN - After US Marines seized seven shipping containers filled with 7.62-mm. bullets on an Iranian-chartered German ship earlier this month, allegedly bound for either the Syrian army or Hizbullah, Israeli officials have asked the German government to submit the case to the UN for a review of sanctions violations, according to German media reports.
A German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman confirmed to The Jerusalem Post by e-mail that "Germany notified the sanctions committee of the United Nations promptly and confidentially" regarding the seizure of the ammunition.
The "decisive lead [on the shipment] came from Israeli intelligence agencies."
The cartridges can be used for Kalashnikov rifles, the Der Spiegel newsweekly reported.
The magazine noted that last week, Israeli diplomats had demanded that the German Foreign Ministry refer the matter to the UN to hold the Islamic Republic accountable for violating the UN arms embargo imposed on it. According to German press coverage, Berlin sent an "interim report" to New York.
Israeli diplomats are also requesting that the Germans conduct an inquiry of the clandestine shipment of Iranian ammunition aboard the German freight ship, the Hansa India, which was leased from the Hamburg-based company Leonhardt & Blumberg.
Wolfgang Leonhardt, one of the company's owners, told the Post that the Iranian state-owned company Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) had leased the ship and that it had been headed for Egypt. He said there "is no possibility to examine the transportation containers. It is like the sending of a letter with the post office."
Leonhardt added that the "forwarding agent in Iran" was responsible for the freight and that IRISL had paid roughly $5,000 per day to rent the vessel.
Asked whether his company should be conducting trade with a country that exports weapons to Hizbullah and threatens global security with its nuclear program, he said that "it would not make sense in terms of the world community to ban" trade with Iran.
An Israeli diplomat in Berlin reacted to Leonhardt's trade position by citing Britain's decision to end its commercial relations with IRISL.
"It was the correct decision to boycott IRISL," the diplomat said. "And the British order came before the affair with Leonhardt & Blumberg. There are many good reasons to suspend business with Iran, including their delivery of armaments to Hizbullah."
In early October, the United Kingdom's Treasury Department prohibited private-sector companies from trading with IRISL. The British government invoked its counterterrorism legislation, as IRISL had "transported goods for both Iran's ballistic missile and nuclear programs" and supplied Iran with equipment for its alleged nuclear weapons program.
Unlawful trade between Germany and Teheran is a particularly sensitive subject for the "special relationship" between Germany and Israel. Earlier this year, a lengthy investigative report in the SÃ¼ddeutsche Zeitung, along with customs officers' complaints, revealed a porous export control system with respect to German-Iranian trade. The US, which called for tougher inspections of IRISL cargo in 2008, has synchronized its strategy with the British government by cracking down on IRISL.
Critics within Germany argue that the country is pursuing narrow economic interests over its stated obligation to defend Israel's security and stop Iran's proliferation of weapons.
Meanwhile, Wilhelm MÃ¶llers, the spokesman for the public prosecutor in Hamburg, told the Post that investigators had searched the Hansa India on Tuesday, as well two offices of Leonhardt & Blumberg. The business office of the Hamburg location of IRISL was also searched.
"Documents and e-mails were seized, and we are in the process of evaluating," said MÃ¶llers.
Asked about the destination of the ship, he said the Hansa India had planned to stop in Egypt, but that was not the final stop of the vessel - contrary to Leonhardt's statement citing Egypt as the shipping destination.
He added that "we also do not know what the US Navy confiscated" during their inspection of the ship.
The Hamburg prosecutor's ongoing investigation could run between six and eight weeks, according to MÃ¶llers.