Diplomacy Can`t Stop Arms Sales
Benny Avni - Sep 11, 2009
New York Post
Questions still surround the recent ad ventures of the Arctic Sea, a Panama-flagged Russian cargo ship purportedly seized by pirates -- or maybe by Israeli special forces. Yet the story still teaches an important lesson about stopping the sale of weapons to rogue nations like Iran.
International agreements, so loved by President Obama`s inner circle, aren`t enough to stop such arms deliveries. That requires the use of all available means -- including some clandestine and even violent acts.
The Arctic Sea disappeared in July while traveling from Russia to Algeria. According to numerous Western, Russian and Israeli reports, the ship wasn`t carrying timber, as Moscow claims, but S-300s -- the top surface-to-air missiles in Russia`s arsenal. And the cargo was destined for Iran.
The Israeli press reported yesterday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu popped up in Moscow midweek for secret talks on arms proliferation to Iran and Hezbollah. That only adds to questions surrounding the Arctic Sea.
For example: Did pirates really seize the Russian ship, as Moscow officially claims -- or was it an Israeli naval commando unit, the Shayetet? Perhaps the Mossad had tipped the Kremlin to an arms deal involving Iran and former Red Army generals with mob ties. Did the famed Israeli intelligence agency then help the Kremlin avoid an embarrassment, staging a "heroic" rescue mission on the high seas?
"I can`t talk about this specific case, but Israel regularly follows and intercepts attempts to smuggle arms to Iran and other countries in the region," an Israeli intelligence source told me, adding, "In most cases you won`t even hear about it."
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is proud of signing several new arms-control treaties, notably with Russia. And the president has big plans for this month`s UN Security Council session on nuclear disarmament, attended by heads of state, at which he`ll preside.
But gentlemanly agreements don`t do much in a world of shadowy arms dealers, greedy former generals and rogue regimes. Sometimes daring, creative and violent action is the only effective approach.
The Kremlin, understandably, is embarrassed by the publicity surrounding Arctic Sea. Mikhail Voitenko, the editor of the Russian online publication the Maritime Bulletin-Sovfracht, was one of the first journalists to report on the case. Earlier this week, he fled to Turkey -- saying he received several threatening and anonymous phone calls.
Israeli newspapers followed the case closely, wondering on the Arctic Sea`s whereabouts as soon as it disappeared after departing from a Finnish port July 21. (It failed to arrive in Algeria on Aug. 4, as scheduled.)
The Arctic Sea fell off the radar somewhere near France. But by mid-August, the Russian navy "found" the ship near the western coast of Africa. The Kremlin then claimed that English-speaking pirates, aided by crew members, seized the ship. Eight Russian, Latvian and Estonian men were then arrested. The ship is on its way back to Russia.
Yet the official Russian account simply doesn`t add up: Why, for example, would the "pirates" demand $1.5 million in ransom for a ship carrying timber?
The top European Union official dealing with piracy, Estonian-born Adm. Tarmo Kouts, told Time magazine there was "a notion" out there that the ship was carrying missiles to Iran. If so, he said, the only explanation is that Israel had somehow intercepted the smuggling attempt.
Published accounts, and sources in Moscow and Jerusalem, state that S-300 missiles were loaded on the ship as it underwent "repairs" in Kaliningrad, a Russian-owned Baltic port widely seen as a haven for smugglers.
Such missiles would be hazardous to anyone planning to attack Iran`s nuclear facilities. They could also be transferred to Iran`s clients, such as Hezbollah, endangering Israel`s superiority in the region`s air spaces.
On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called claims of a missile cargo "a complete lie." He then promised a full investigation into what the ship was carrying.
Either way, the affair once more raises questions about Moscow`s ability to control all of Russia`s rogue operators. Pushing imaginary "reset" buttons and making nice at the United Nations just isn`t going to close down the international arms black market.