Int'l parley may block smuggling by sea

Denmark conference aims to boost intel cooperation; UN c'tee reviews Cypriot report on Iranian ship.

iranian boat 248.88 (photo credit: Screen shot)
iranian boat 248.88
(photo credit: Screen shot)
Israel hopes that a meeting on weapons smuggling into Gaza that began in Copenhagen on Wednesday will result in increased cooperation and intelligence sharing among different navies that patrol the Gulf of Aden and the Mediterranean Sea, senior government officials said. Representatives from nine countries, including the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Norway gathered in Copenhagen on Wednesday to discuss the challenges related to illicit arms smuggling into Gaza, including the possibilities for international cooperation to prevent the flow of weapons. Israel has sent a small Foreign Ministry delegation to participate in the meeting with observer status. The Foreign Ministry refused to comment on the talks, which will continue on Thursday. The expert meeting was organized in close cooperation with the new American administration, the Danish Foreign Ministry said in a statement, and will seek to map out the challenges related to weapons smuggling to Gaza, including the political, juridical, diplomatic and technical aspects of potential international contributions to handle this challenge. Focus will be on the transit routes that the arms are following from their point of origin towards Gaza. Israeli officials said Wednesday that the government did not expect the establishment of a new maritime task force to counter the smuggling, but was hoping for a decision that would create better cooperation among various navies that patrol waters in the Middle East and Africa. Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Møller called the meeting a "significant contribution" to further the international community‚s collective efforts to ensure a lasting cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Also Wednesday, a United Nations Security Council committee that monitors Iranian compliance with sanctions met to review a letter submitted by Cyprus about a ship it is holding in port on suspicion it is carrying illicit arms bound for Gaza. No decision had been made by early Wednesday afternoon about whether to refer the matter for a formal review to determine whether the ship's cargo breaches a ban on Iranian arms exports, according to Kiyoshi Wada, a spokesman for the Japanese mission to the UN, which chairs the group overseeing Iranian sanctions compliance. Cypriot Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou said he would await guidance from the UN about what to do with the ship, which remains anchored off the island's southern port of Limassol. Cyprus submitted its report on the cargo of the Cyprus-flagged Monchegorsk on Tuesday, after conducting two inspections. Iran is currently under UN sanctions prohibiting it from supplying, selling or transferring arms or materiel. Suspicions that the ship, which was chartered by an Iranian firm, was taking arms to Hamas in Gaza were raised by the United States after the US Sixth Fleet in the Gulf of Aden stopped it at sea last week, and found weapons materiel aboard, including propellant and casings for artillery and tank rounds. US officials have said they believed the ship was en route to Syria after being blocked from docking in Egypt. Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week that the US was not legally authorized under existing UN resolutions to seize any weapons found on the ship. "The United States did as much as we could do legally," Mullen said.