Iranian cargo ship 390.
(photo credit: Reuters)
In recent years, Iran has been transferring large quantities of armaments, by
various means, to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. While United Nations
Security Council resolutions 1835, 1803, 1747 and 1737 strictly forbid Iran to
export or trade any form of weaponry, the Islamic Republic has found an
effective way to circumvent these restrictions. It accomplishes this is by using
shipping containers which reach their final destination via intermediate
In November 2009, 36 containers full of weapons were loaded at an
Iranian port onto a ship bound for Egypt. There the containers were transferred,
without any inspection or screening, to the cargo vessel Francop, a German-owned
vessel leased at the time to a Cypriot freight delivery company and
Antiguan-flagged. The Francop was to dock at a second intermediate port in
Cyprus on its way to Syria, its final destination. From Syria the weapons were
intended to be transferred to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Instead, the ship was
intercepted by Israeli naval forces before arriving in Cyprus.
to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the most critical component of
global trade today is transportation of goods by container through seaports
around the world. Therefore, a container explosion can have an enormous negative
impact not only in terms of loss of life and damage to the port and its
surrounding areas, but also to the host nation’s economy as a whole.
an incident occurred on July 2011 in Cyprus, where the explosion of confiscated
containers of gunpowder from Iran killed the commander of the Cypriot navy and
11 others, wounding dozens and causing severe damage to surrounding
infrastructure. The incident had significant political ramifications: the
defense minister and the country’s top military official
Further incidents like this could paralyze the global economy
and severely undermine freedom of movement (as has occurred in the past with air
Containers in transit are almost never screened for weapons or
other illegal goods without prior intelligence for two main reasons. The first
has to with the fact that since these containers do not officially enter the
country, there is no reason for the customs agencies – which are usually in
charge of screening incoming containers from abroad – to inspect
The second reason is that screening containers costs money. This
cost will almost certainly be partially if not fully imposed on the shipper,
thus increasing overall shipment cost. A shipper might then decide to ship his
containers via a different intermediate that charges less money.
to combat such illegal activity is to subject containers shipped by states like
Iran that have been caught undermining the system by falsifying documents and
smuggling weapons to terrorist organizations to a 100 percent inspection regime.
This would not only increase port safety and security, but would also deny Iran
a way to transfer weapons to terrorist organizations. The inspection
costs would be borne by Iran.
The only way such a system can be effective
is if the entire international community legally commits itself to apply such an
inspection regime on all incoming “transit containers” from Iran. Otherwise,
Iran will bypass the inspections by shipping its containers through intermediate
ports which do not use the aforementioned 100% inspection regime.
measure will help guarantee that containers loaded with weapons which were
shipped from Iran to terrorist organizations will be caught – regardless of
prior intelligence – due to the comprehensive inspection regime at intermediate
ports.Nitzan Nuriel is the former head of the Prime Minister Office’s