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When Nigerian officials seized 13 containers of weapons smuggled from Iran into the Nigerian port of Lagos on October 26, 2010, Iranian foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki chalked the entire incident up to a complete “misunderstanding.” Unfortunately for Mottaki, the Nigerian government, as a result of its own internal investigation, didn’t believe the incident lacked clarity.
The shipment of weapons, according to the Nigerian State Security Service (SSS), originated from the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas and was hidden in containers marked as building materials. The cache included 107mm rockets, grenades and assorted small arms. The rockets have a killing radius of 5 miles and have been used by insurgents against US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
If correct, this act would signal a direct violation by Iran of UN imposed sanctions that expressly prohibit Iran, either directly or indirectly, from selling, supplying or transferring any weapons.
The confirmation of the weapons point of origin has now led Nigeria to forward its findings to the UN Security Council. According to Nigerian Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia, “Following preliminary investigations, our permanent mission in New York has reported the seizure and inspection of the arms shipment from Iran.”
The Iranians, for their part, have steadfastly maintained the incident to be nothing more than a private company’s attempt to sell weapons to another yet unidentified West African nation. According to Mottaki, an Iranian representative of the company had “offered explanations and I believe the misunderstanding has been cleared up.”
With the Nigerians in obvious disagreement, it will be up to the UN Security Council to determine the next steps, if any, to be taken. In fact, it’s starting to become a busy month for that body as in addition to the Nigerian findings, it now awaits the receipt of a UN report on North Korean efforts to supply Iran, among others nations, with nuclear technology.
The timing of the weapons seizure also does not auger well for the six-nation talks on the Iranian nuclear program scheduled to resume in December. Although participants had little hope the talks would produce much progress, news of this latest violation confirms those dour predictions.
Still, the most pertinent question raised from the discovery of the Iranian weapons is not that Iran had been caught exporting arms, but rather who were the intended recipients.
Israeli officials voiced concern the shipment was an attempt by the Iranians to open up a new overland route in which to supply Hamas in Gaza. It led one Israeli defense official to conjecture that “the Iranians were planning to unload the weapons in Nigeria and transfer them by land to Sudan and Sinai,” since a stepped up international presence had slowed down efforts by the Iranians to offload weapons into Sudan via the Red Sea.
While there may be legitimacy to those comments, the timing of the shipment coincides with a renewed outbreak of violence between the Nigerian government and its many militant groups, suggesting a different answer.
As a nation divided between a Muslim-dominated north and a Christian-dominated south, with each region home to violent militant groups, Nigeria is ripe for exploitation by a regime intent on fomenting destabilization.
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