Procurement: Two Jews Walk Into Iran�

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March 7, 2014: Two Israeli arms dealers (Avihai Weinstein and Eli Cohen) are again under arrest and accused of trying to smuggle weapons components to Iran. This time a joint Greek-American investigation intercepted containers of F-4 jet fighter parts headed for Iran. This is the third time since 2012 that Weinstein and Cohen are being investigated for this sort of thing. These two are suspected of smuggling spare parts for aircraft, armored vehicles and anti-aircraft missiles to Iran since the 1980s. Weinstein and Cohen have been formally investigated six times but no charges have ever been made that would stick and result in a conviction.

This may be the result of avoiding the DEA (U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency). There are DEA agents all over the world and they are constantly dealing with smugglers who will move anything that will earn a profit. Many smugglers avoid drugs because of the higher risk of getting caught. But the DEA agents know that even smugglers who do not touch drugs will often dabble in things that are of interest to the FBI or CIA. The DEA cooperates with these two agencies because that means the FBI and CIA will reciprocate when the DEA needs some extra help in nailing some big-time drug smuggler or dealer.

Iran also has lots of contacts in the smuggling community and the DEA has found that a useful way to get closer to smugglers (and drug gangs the smugglers may have information on) is to offer access to military equipment. This often attracts the Iranians, who are not considered as toxic as terrorists and are more reliable and lucrative for smugglers. The smuggling gangs often deal it all sorts of contraband and Iranians use contacts in these gangs to seek out weapons and military equipment international sanctions prevent Iran from importing legally. It’s often difficult to insert an agent from another agency (like the CIA or FBI) when a DEA operative comes across an Iranian arms smuggler, so it’s customary to let the DEA agent run with it until the arrests are made. Thus the DEA is found at the center of many smuggling cases involving Iran.

The war on Iranian arms smuggling has been intensifying in the last decade. Most countries cooperate, but not all. While Turkey has been getting cozy with Iran the Turks still enforce international trade sanctions against Iran. But as Turkey encourages its companies to do more business with Iran there are more opportunities to smuggle forbidden goods to assist Iranian nuclear weapons and ballistic missile projects. Iran takes advantage of this whenever possible.

Germany was once a favorite place for Iran to buy equipment for their ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs but after 2006 the Germans began really cracking down. For example, in 2008, a German citizen was prosecuted for running a weapons related smuggling operation. The defendant shipped 16 tons of high-grade graphite, used for making rocket nozzles to Iran in 2005-7. The defendant mislabeled the graphite as low-grade, which was legal to sell to Iran. Another ten tons of the high-grade graphite was caught by Turkish customs officials. Germany adopted stricter export rules for Iran in 2009 and promptly began seeking out and prosecuting those who ignored the ban. This did not stop the Iranians from using Germany as a source of forbidden goods. In response Germany have been prosecuting people for exporting special metals and manufacturing equipment needed for ballistic missile warheads. All this slows down the Iranians but has not stopped them.

Ever since the U.S. embargo was imposed in 1979 (after Iran broke diplomatic protocol by seizing the American embassy) Iran has sought, with some success, to offer big money to smugglers who can beat the embargo and get needed industrial and military equipment. This is a risky business, and American and European prisons are full of Iranians, and other nationals, who tried and failed to procure forbidden goods. The smuggling operations are currently under more scrutiny, and attack, because of Iran's growing nuclear weapons program. But the Iranians simply offer more money, and more smugglers step up to keep the goodies coming.

Once face of it all those purchases appear to be overkill because Iran must smuggle in its arms imports, as legitimate purchases are banned by international embargoes and that severely limits how much military material they can get. Thus it is not surprising that Iranian military procurement is less than ten percent what their Arab neighbors are spending. But the Iranians have a long tradition of doing much with little when it comes to military equipment. In addition the Arabs have a much less impressive combat record, especially in the last century. So the oil-rich Arabs are trying to equip their troops with a lot of the best stuff available and hope for the best.

 

 


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