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Procurement: The Mysterious Monchegorsk
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February 5, 2009: Last month, a U.S. warship in the Gulf of Aden spotted a former Russian merchant ship, the Monchegorsk, that was now flying a Cypriot flag. Currently the ship is sitting off a Cyprus port, having all its containers searched for weapons. No one is saying what has been found. It's all something of a mystery, so far. It's believed that the ship is carrying weapons for Syria, or Hezbollah, or Hamas, or all three.

The Monchegorsk had originally been spotted leaving an Iranian port, and   heading for the Suez canal. Egyptian authorities were alerted and the Monchegorsk was forced into an Egyptian port to be searched. Munitions, believed headed for Gaza, were found hidden in the cargo. But the Monchegorsk was released because Department of Defense lawyers were uncertain if the weapons found are sufficient evidence that Iran was in violation of UN resolution 1747, and, even so, did anyone have the authority to seize anything. But once the ship exited the Suez canal, the U.S. persuaded Cyprus (which, technically, has control over the ship) to seize it when it passed Cyprus, and do a thorough search.

UN resolution (1747) prohibits Iran from exporting weapons. The exact wording of the resolution is; " Decides that Iran shall not supply, sell or transfer directly or indirectly from its territory or by its nationals or using its flag vessels or aircraft any arms or related materiel, and that all States shall prohibit the procurement of such items from Iran by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in the territory of Iran. " The U.S. is apparently using 1747 as a license to mess with Iranian efforts to export weapons to its terrorist customers.

U.S. warships in Task Force 151 (the anti-piracy patrol in the Gulf of Aden) has been ordered to watch for ships that have taken on cargo in Iran, and then head through the Gulf of Aden for the Suez canal. Iran is believed to be increasing its efforts to smuggle weapons into Gaza for Hamas, a terrorist organization that has been supported by Iran since the 1990s. Such Iranian cargo ships have been caught carrying weapons to Gaza before. The Iranians try to either land the weapons on the Gaza coast, or smuggle them into Egypt and then through the smuggling tunnels under the Gaza/Egyptian border.

The recent ceasefire in Gaza included Egypt agreeing to use American sensors, and U.S. technicians, to detect and destroy these tunnels. The sensors and technical experts began their work at the end of January. Israel has, for several years, increased it security along the Gaza coast, making the tunnels the main route for Iranian weapons and munitions. But material found off the Gaza coast recently indicates that Iran still uses waterproof containers, that float just under the surface, to get weapons to Palestinian fishing boats, and then into Gaza.

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