Turkish Officials Discover Stash of Iranian Weapons Heading to Syria
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Turkey has seized a secret shipment of Iranian weapons heading to Syria, documents submitted to the U.N. Security council and obtained by Reuters reveal. The discovery was made while officials were inspecting an Iranian cargo plane that had landed at Turkey’s Diyarbakir Airport on a technical stop, carrying what it declared as “spare auto parts”.
The search, which uncovered 60 Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles, 14 BKC/Bixi machine guns, nearly 8,000 rounds of BKC/AK-47 ammunition, 560 60-mm mortar shells, and 1,288 120-mm mortar shells, is the latest in a series of Iranian violations of their U.N. weapons-trading embargo. Colombia’s Nestor Osorio, who oversees the Iran sanctions committee, called the increase in sanctions violations a “matter of serious concern”.
Turkey’s U.N. report, however, leaves a number of critical questions about the latest seizure unanswered.
The first is regarding the ultimate destination of the weapons cargo. The plane’s documents mention only that it was headed to Aleppo, Syria. However, it’s plausible that they may have been ultimately destined for the port city of Latakia – a major flashpoint in the destabilizing protests facing embattled president Bashar Assad, and a place the Reform Party of Syria (RPS) has warned the Syrian regime might try and instigate sectarian violence.
Another critical and related question to consider is whether the growing number of Iranian weapons-trading infractions, which include, notably, Israel’s March 15th seizure of a boatload of Iranian weapons it claims were furnished for militants in Gaza, are actually a case of Iran increasing efforts to arm its assets by proxy, or whether its rivals are getting better at policing Iranian exports. In this case, the seizure of arms reflects very well on Turkish officials, who have garnered considerable criticism from both US and European officials for their inability to fully implement financial sanctions on Iran.
Finally, remaining unclear from the UN report is whom the crew of the Iranian cargo plane were and what their ties to groups in both Iran and Syria may be. According to Turkish officials they “denied any knowledge about the prohibited items on board, as well as the identity of the consignor or consignee.” Based on numerous reports Thursday, they have been released and allowed back to Tehran.