February 19, 2009: Cyprus, was recently assured by UN inspectors that an Iranian ship, being held in Cyprus, was in violation of UN sanctions. Cyprus then unloaded 90 cargo containers of materials used in manufacturing munitions. This all began last month, when a U.S. warship in the Gulf of Aden began following a former Russian merchant ship, the Monchegorsk, that was now flying a Cypriot flag. At first, it was believed that the ship was carrying weapons for Syria, or Hezbollah, or Hamas, or all three.
The Monchegorsk was originally 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 before it was allowed to proceed through the canal. Suspicious munitions components, believed headed for Gaza, were found in the cargo. But the Monchegorsk was released because Department of Defense lawyers were uncertain if the materials found were 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 nearby, 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. was 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 indicates that Iran still uses waterproof containers, that float just under the surface, to get weapons to Palestinian fishing boats, and then into Gaza.
Cyprus says it will hold the Iranian cargo until the UN advises how the material can be disposed of. Cyprus refused to detail exactly what was in the 90 containers. Iran and Syria have been quiet as well.