(Achieving a satisfactory “comprehensive” solution under the P5+1 “deal” is useful for political purposes. Amorphous mumblings about eliminating Iran’s nuclear threat, particularly by those involved in the negotiations, seem likely to be disingenuous. Talk of Iran’s persistent dishonesty and support for terrorism does not contribute to getting a satisfactory “comprehensive” solution either and is also likely to be disingenuous. – DM)
[I]t is likely that the damage to Iran’s image will be slight. Its involvement in terrorism has been well-known for years. Capturing this vessel, therefore, is not going to change that very much. And since it is also a high Western priority to reach a final deal over the nuclear issue, it is unlikely that this affair is going to put the brakes on the nuclear talks.
The Iranians have already gotten used to it. From time to time, they send massive weapons shipments to their allies in Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, Iraq and other countries by land, by air or by sea. And from time to time, when these arms are meant to harm Israel, and when the intelligence community attains precise information about such shipments — the Israel Defense Forces attacks them. These strikes are accomplished through weapons seizures in the Red and Mediterranean seas, or by air assaults on weapons convoys — typically in Lebanon, Syria or Sudan.
Despite Israel’s success, the Iranians continue to attempt to send weapons — perhaps because they have in fact sent several successful weapons shipments under the radar. So despite such foiled attempts, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s respective weapons stockpiles are substantial, and an integral part of each of them came from Iran.
It is in Iran’s best interest to provide its allies with weapons, especially terrorist groups. Using terror groups to fight its enemies is one of the most important components in Iran’s security outlook because it has proved to be an effective method of deterrence. That is why, since 1984, the U.S. government has defined Iran as one of the world’s leading state sponsors of terror. Providing assistance to terrorist groups has benefitted Iran by allowing Tehran to wield influence in the Middle East — in Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories. Assisting terrorist groups fighting Israel has helped Iran in its goal to wear Israel down through armed struggle, putting terrorist groups — especially Hezbollah, which has an umbilical relationship with Iran — at the forefront of its efforts. Using terrorism is cost-effective from Iran’s perspective. Tehran never really has to pay a price for supporting terror; its agents do.
The illicit shipment on the Klos C blends well with Iran’s approach. The vessel was meant to bring weapons to the Gaza Strip via Sudan. Sudan is an opportune transit station on the way to Egypt, the Sinai Peninsula and, ultimately, the Gaza Strip. Iran-Sudan relations have been close for years; Iran provides Sudan with military and economic aid.
It is still unclear who exactly the weapons were meant for: Hamas is one option, but its relations with Iran were challenged in 2012 both when the group cozied up to the Muslim Brotherhood, which ruled Egypt at the time, and when Iranian involvement in Syria started to raise eyebrows among Hamas’ leadership; another possibility is Islamic Jihad, which boasts the closest relations to Tehran among Palestinian groups. Perhaps the weapons were meant for both.
In any case, transferring weapons to Gaza has become both more difficult and problematic. The Egyptian government has been investing a lot of effort of late to regain control of the Sinai and to destroy the smuggling tunnels between Sinai and the Gaza Strip. The Egyptian government also sees an antagonistic threat in Hamas, so how the Iranians planned to smuggle the unwieldy missiles shipment into the Gaza Strip remains unclear.
The weapons discovery marked an embarrassment for Iran, which has been endeavoring both to improve its international standing and to paint a positive, moderate picture of itself to reach agreements with Western governments over its nuclear program, a development that could alleviate painful economic sanctions. The U.N. Security Council also explicitly banned Iran from exporting weapons in 2007, which is why Iran hurriedly denied any involvement with this shipment.
Still, it is likely that the damage to Iran’s image will be slight. Its involvement in terrorism has been well-known for years. Capturing this vessel, therefore, is not going to change that very much. And since it is also a high Western priority to reach a final deal over the nuclear issue, it is unlikely that this affair is going to put the brakes on the nuclear talks. International attention has also been focused on the Russia-Ukraine confrontation, overshadowing the arms shipment.
Seizing this ship is a blow to Iran, which certainly poured effort and resources into organizing the attempted stealth mission. Iran’s beef with Israel is getting bigger — previous strikes against attempted arms shipments, the deaths of several Iranian scientists, Iranians computer systems infected with viruses, the assassination of Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh. We should probably bear in mind then that Iran is planning to settle the score — perhaps through Hezbollah.