Monday, February 2, 2009

The Missing Iranian Ship

Missing from AmeriKa's MSM coverage (at least, the War Daily I get).

: Iran to Aid Gaza

Whatever became of that ship, anyway?

"The "Iranian" Weapon Ships

The seems to be some confusion in the media about ships from Iran that allegedly transport Iranian weapons to Gaza and elsewhere. bea asked to look into it.

Israels aim is to further isolate Iran by any means and to use the U.S. and other countries to do their bidding. To that end it alleges Iranian support for its enemies, currently especially Hamas, and its propaganda machine is doing a hell of a job to confuse the world with disinformation about this.

For starters, let us note that there is no proof at all for any Iranian weapons used by Hamas in defense against the latest assault against Gaza. Over to a former director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Colonel Pat Lang:

It is claimed by the agitpropers that Hamas is a satellite organization of Iran. If that is so, then Iran has done a poor job of supplying their Palestinian subsidiary. Where are the Iranian product improved and manufactured weapons that Hizbullah possessed in numbers in '06? Where are they? Impossible to deliver? All of them?

It would seem that political support and encouragement is one thing. Supply is another.

The best rockets Hamas used so far, says Israeli intelligence, are from China, not Iran. Such weapons get stolen from the Egyptian army or bought from international weapon dealers and smuggled for a profit by Bedouin nomads through the Sinai and through tunnels into Gaza. There is no proof of any Iranian supply of weaponry to Gaza at all.

Onto those ships. There are two in question that are mentioned, and mixed up, in recent news reports.

An Iranian ship with Red Crescent humanitarian goods which was denied access to Gaza and to Egypt and is now in Beirut. That ships name is Iran Shahid, IMO 9184591 (Picture)

A Russian container ship that is transporting some stuff from Iran to Syria and elsewhere and was searched last week by the U.S. Navy. There is yet no proof that it carries any weapon or ammunition at all. It is now in Cyprus. Here is a picture of the Monchegorsk, IMO 8013039.

On December 10 the Iranian Red Crescent announced to send 1,000 tons of humanitarian goods as relief to Gaza:

The official did not disclose the nationality of the ship, but said the cargo will include 500 tonnes of wheat, 200 tonnes of sugar, 200 tonnes of rice, 50 tonnes of cooking oil and 50 tonnes of medical supplies.

The text to a Getty/AFP image late December says:

Iranian Red Crescent workers pack medical aid into boxes before uploading them onto the 'Iran Shahed' ship to send to Gaza Strip in the southern port city of Bandar Abbas on December 28, 2008.

On January 14 the Red Crescent said that the ship was turned back by the Israeli Navy and would try to land its load in the Mediterranean Egypt port of el-Arish to be trucked into Gaza. Egypt denied the ship access to el-Arish and on January 30 it arrived in Beirut. The name of the captain is Qaleh-Golab.

Of course if you believe the Israeli disinformation service Debka:

the vessel has been converted into a floating logistical headquarters for the Hamas leadership, with Hamas frogmen using fishing boats to keep them connected.

Hamas frogmen ....

Now onto the second ship. Here the reporting is fudged incredibly by Israeli disinformation.

Like this report today from the Jerusalem Post:

[T]he American Aviation Week magazine reported Sunday that the US prevented Israel from raiding an Iranian ship believed to be carrying weaponry and explosives for Hamas.

According to the report, the Americans stopped the operation because they wanted to avoid an Iranian-Israeli confrontation.

Aviation Week reporting on naval issues? But indeed the usually reliable Aviation Week blog for military issues Ares gives it a sad try:

The Cypriot Navy has stopped an Iranian ship, believed to be carrying weapons for Hamas, on its way to Syria, Israeli security officials told The Jerusalem Post last Thursday night.
According to unofficial intelligence reports, the Iran Shahed set out from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas Dec. 29, the second day of the Gaza conflict, changing its identity several times until hoisting a Cypriot flag. The vessel was stopped by the US Sixth Fleet in the Gulf of Aden on its way to Egypt, where it was believed to have planned to unload its cargo, which was then to be smuggled into the Gaza Strip.
According to unconfirmed reports, the Israelis tried to seize the boat in the Red Sea (...). But the Americans decided not to give the Israeli Navy a chance to seize the vessel and tow it to Eilat for fear of a Tehran ultimatum to Jerusalem, followed by Iranian attacks on Israeli and US naval craft patrolling the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea.

Lots of nonsense in those two graphs and the rest of it is only worse. The Red Crescent goods ship is named Iran Shahed, not the allegedly weapon carrying ship. And why would the U.S. Navy "tow" a ship that can drive by itself?

Notice that the blog entry is by one David Eshel - a retired Colonel of the Israeli army.

Another Debka piece has a sentences that reappears word for word in the Aviation Week blog entry.

The Americans decided not to give the Israeli Navy a chance to seize the vessel and tow it to Eilat ...

So that's how the circle goes. The Jerusalem Post report above is based on an Aviation Week blog entry from a retired Israeli officer who's sources are Debka and the Jerusalem Post.

The same Jerusalem Post article includes this:

The Cyprus Mail newspaper quoted military officials as saying that the boat was carrying hundreds of tons of explosives and that authorities were considering moving the vessel to Larnaca Port.

The Cyprus Mail did not do so. It wrote:

High-ranking army and police officers, however, conducted an initial search to the cargo and reportedly found over hundreds of tons of explosives, reports said.

Cyprus Mail says "reportedly". It did not quote officials. But who "reported" this? Debka? The Jerusalem Post? We don't know, but I suspect it is wrong as the ship, according to the Cyprus Mail, has not even started to unload yet.

The ship in question is a Russian container ship Monchegorsk that sails under the flag of Cyprus. On January 19 the U.S. Navy stopped the ship in the Red Sea and requested to search it. The master, says the U.S. navy, agreed to the search.

On January 20 DEBKA alleged:

US and Egyptian warships were scouring the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea Tuesday, Jan. 20 to waylay an Iranian freighter carrying scores of heavy rockets for delivery to Hamas. DEBKAfile's exclusive sources report they were acting on intelligence that a ship loaded with an estimated 60 tons of arms to replenish Hamas' depleted war stocks had set out from the Iranian Persian Gulf port of Bandar Abbas on Jan. 17.

Our sources reveal that the arms-smuggling vessel started its voyage as the Iran-Hedayat and changed its name in mid sea to Famagustus registered to Panama. The captain was ordered by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to unload its cargo at a smugglers cove on the southeastern coast of Sinai opposite the Gulf of Suez, to be picked up by armed Bedouin gangs and moved to El Arish in northern Sinai. From there the contraband rockets were to be slipped gradually into the Gaza Strip.

Hmm - smuggler coves ... ?

On January 22 AP reported:

The U.S. military intercepted and searched an Iranian-owned ship that officials feared was carrying arms to the militant group Hamas, but two officials said it was unclear Thursday whether those suspicions were founded.
One official said the two-day search turned up ammunition that included artillery shells; and since Hamas is not known to use artillery, officials are now uncertain who the intended recipient was.

This "two officials" "one official" thingy is curious.

AP later said:

The Navy searched the ship with permission of the captain and found small munitions, military officials said.

So one "official" alleges artillery shells, while later "military officials" only talk about small munitions. The AP should straighten up its reporting ...

Point 5 of UN resolution 1747 (pdf) prohibits Iranian arms exports.

If the U.S. would have found anything but a few small weapons or munitions (btw - quite usable against pirates said to be in that area) from Iran on board of that ship it would have had reason to detain it or to seize the cargo.

But even Admiral Mullen said there was not enough evidence to do so:

QUESTION: Tal Schneider from Maariv newspaper, Israel. I want to ask about the anti-smuggling efforts that the U.S. Navy has done in Suez Canal, stopping an Iranian ship that was smuggling probably weapons. And is the U.S. intention to convene a conference about anti-smuggling to Gaza Strip in the near future?

ADM MULLEN: Actually, it was a Cypriot-flagged ship that was boarded by a U.S. Navy boarding team after requesting permission from the master and receiving permission to go aboard to inspect for weapons which were – which were considered – which were considered to go against the UN Security Council resolution which banned these kinds of weapons from being shipped from Iran, which is where they came from, to Syria, which is where we believe they’re headed and, in fact, will probably get there in the next day or so.

The United States did as much as we could do legally. There are authorities, limitations in complying with this particular UN resolution, and we basically went right up to the edge of that and we couldn't do anything else. So we were not authorized to seize the weapons or do anything like that.

So the navy found nothing that would be against the prohibitions in UN resolution 1747. If you reread the above you will find that Mullen does not even confirm that the navy found anything at all.

He also had this gem:

... shipping weapons to Syria that we think, quite frankly, are going to end up in Gaza.

Could the Admiral please check a map? What countries lie between Syria and Gaza? Would they allow weapons transfer from Syria to Gaza? Duh.

The ship was stopped and searched in the Red Sea by the U.S. amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio, which is currently supposed to hunt pirates with task force 151 at the Somali coast. Instead it is pirating Russian ships.

The Monchegorsk then passed through the Suez Channel and was greeted in the Mediterranean by the U.S. Navy.

According to the Cyprus Mail:

‘Monchegorsk,’ a Russian-owned ship was yesterday docked at Limassol, a day after the US navy intercepted the vessel at the Suez Canal and led it to Cyprus.

The US and Israel believe the ship, which set off from Iran, was carrying arms, weaponry and explosives for Hamas and Hezbollah, although Russia insists it is a commercial vessel which was carrying cargo from Iran to Syria.
Washington has asked the Cypriot authorities to hold the vessel and its crew, thoroughly check its cargo and ensure all its documents are in order.

A later Cyprus Mail report says:

The vessel is being investigated after the US and Israel said it was suspected of carrying Iranian weapons to Gaza.

Russia, on the other hand, says it is a completely legal and commercial container.

The US government has asked for the ship to be investigated and its documents examined.

The ship, which according to reports was heading from Iran to Syria, was forced by the US navy to moor in Cyprus.

According to CyBC, the vessel is expected to remain off the coast for the next two days, until a decision is taken on the matter.

Yesterday Haaretz cited "Israeli officials" saying the Cypriot inspectors found tank ammunition for T-72 tanks and various mortar rounds on the ship.

Maybe in those "secret holds" Debka phantazises about?"

Whatever: Neither Hezbollah nor Hamas have T-72 tanks. The Syrian army has Russian build T-72 tanks. A Russian ship carrying T-72 shells to Syria should not surprise anyone.

But where is the load - if it exists - from?

No source gives any proof that the ammunition, if it exist at all, is actually from Iran or even destined for Syria. Container ships usually load and unload at several harbors along a fixed circle route. That a ship carries something after having visited port C does not mean that the stuff was loaded there and is destined for port D. The stuff might have been loaded at port A or B and be destined for port E or F.

So let us summarize:

One Iranian ship with a humanitarian load was not allowed to land that load in Gaza or Egypt and therefore carried it to Beirut. Good food for poor Shiites in South-Lebanon I guess.

A Russian ship under Cyprus flag and on the way from Iran to Syria was held up and searched by the U.S. Navy, with permission from the master. The U.S. Navy did not find anything that would have allowed it to act under UN Resolution 1747 but escorted the ship to Cyprus for whatever.

The Russians say the ship carries only legitimate load.

All reports about anything more than a few small weapons on that ship are solely based on Israeli reports based on dubious sources.

There is a quite extensive effort by the Israeli disinformation circles to fudge these issue and to thereby make Iran look bad.