Is Iran Arming Venezuela?

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By Fernando Ariel Gimenez & Meir Javedanfar

On October 4, the Israeli Navy seized a cargo ship in the Mediterranean Sea near Cyprus.

The arms shipment, disguised as a civilian cargo, was being carried by an Antigua-flagged ship named “Francop." According to Israel Navy Chief Brigadier General Rani Ben Yehuda, the ship was carrying hundreds of tons of weapons. Israel alleges that the weapons were intended for Hezbollah via Iran.

IDF Spokesperson's Unit has released several videos showing the contents of the Iranian containers. Among the findings, there were rifle bullets, F1 fragment grenades, rockets, mortar shells and artillery shells.

What was particularly surprising was ammunition boxes, with Spanish writing. Here is a video showing the cargo.

The label reads “2 DISPAROS” (which means “2 shots”), “LOTE” (lot, as part of a collection), and “ESPOLETA” (the fuse in explosives), accompanied by other descriptive numbers and letters. The topmost line of the box label contains “M40 A1." The M40 is a bolt action sniper rifle. A1 is the second variant of the rifle, and it was introduced in the 1970s. These three words are identical in Portuguese.

It is unknown to us whether this specific lot was originated from a Spanish/Portuguese country. If it was imported by Iran, we may consider Spain--the largest arms exporter in the Spanish speaking world (and one of the biggest in the world, period). Argentina and Brazil also had prominent arms industries some decades ago; the former had severed ties with Iran after 1994 AMIA bombing.

It is also possible that the weapons were built in Iran, with the original goal of exporting them to one of the Spanish speaking countries. Venezuela is Iran’s biggest ally in Latin America. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has built strong ties not only with Iran but also with Syria, where "Francop" was supposed to dock. What likely happened in this case is that instead of exporting the weapons to Venezuela, Iran decided to send them on to Hezbollah.

This is not the first time Iran has been accused of shipping arms to foreign organizations. In May of this year, a convoy of Iranian weapons was destroyed in Sudan by either the Israeli or American Air Force. And last week, Yemen says it intercepted an Iranian boat carrying weapons for Zaydi Shia Houthis rebels who have recently intensified their attacks against Yemeni and Saudi security forces.

Fernando Ariel Gimenez runs the Oriente Miedo blog, which analyzes events in the Middle East in Spanish.

(AP Photos)

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