Rogue Missiles and a Fake Hijacking

Today we go from yesterday’s discussion of the implications of the melting ice in the Arctic Sea to . . . the Arctic Sea. But hold on: the “Arctic Sea” I’m talking about this time is not the geographical area, but rather the freighter (Maltese-registered; Russian crew) which has recently been at the center of a bizarre tale, having been hijacked just off Sweden on July 24 and which then proceeded seemingly to traverse the English Channel (one of the more-crowded stretches of water in the world) undetected, only to finally be found and captured by Russian warships weeks later in the Atlantic, near the Cape Verde Islands off the West African coast. If needed, you can refresh your memory from this Reuters report, and you might also consider an additional Associated Press report about a “Russian maritime expert,” now having fled Russia for fear of his life, who raised the possibility that the ship’s cargo could very well have included things a bit more interesting than just the Finnish wood listed on the manifest – like maybe weapons, for example.

Well yes, the word now is that that cargo did indeed include weapons, specifically Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft missiles – reportedly a very sophisticated defense system against invading enemy airplanes and even ballistic missiles – which were to be delivered to Iran on behalf, not of the Russian state, but rather certain Russia-based mafia interests. I was first alerted to this revelation by an on-line article in the French newsmagazine Le Point (The Arctic Sea supposedly carried S-300 ground-to-air missiles for Iran), but that piece in turn based all its reporting on an account from the Austrian newspaper Salzburger Nachrichten (The rocket-smugglers on the “Arctic Sea”).

The Salzburger Nachrichten, of all papers! It does seem a bit strange to learn of the secret details behind contraband cargo on an ocean-going ship from a journal based somewhere that is, oh, about 250 km from the nearest open water, eh? (And that BTW is to the South: Salzburg is closest to the sea if you proceed through NE Italy to the Adriatic.) The key variable enabling the scoop, however, seems to have had nothing to do with closeness to water, but rather closeness to Israeli intelligence sources, as the piece itself carries the by-line “Gil Yaron Jerusalem” [sic].

So here’s what Gil Yaron writes:

  • Iran approached certain rather dodgy rogue elements of the Russian military in Kaliningrad – that’s the Russian enclave on the Baltic, northwest of Poland – to arrange for the S-300 rockets to be loaded onto the Arctic Sea two months ago, when it conveniently was due to be there to undergo some repairs. These were hidden under the ship’s ostensible cargo of wood.
  • A “Western intelligence service” – no further details – let Moscow know what was going on. The Russian authorities immediately recognized the potential great embarrassment this could cause them, for if anyone is going to deliver S-300 missiles to Iran, it naturally has to be the Russian authorities, according to proper signed contracts, and not something like this out of left field.
  • As a result, those “hijackers” who boarded and took control of the ship shortly after it set sail and was in international waters were actually agents from the FSB – basically the successor to the KGB. And the reason they then kept sailing the ship all the way to a spot off the West African coast was to put it in as inaccessible a spot to any Western journalists as possible before letting their navy “recapture” it and bring the episode to a close.
  • Oh, and naturally NATO and most of the world’s intelligence services were perfectly aware of where the ship was at all times as it made its way out into the Atlantic, but they were willing to let the Russians set up their little cover-story as long as they made sure that the S-300’s never got anywhere near Iran.

Chief among the intelligenge agencies monitoring the situation was of course the Mossad, Israel’s highly-regarded version – naturally, because any S-300’s deployed in Iran would immensely complicated Israel’s task should it decide it needed to strike with its air force to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations. It wasn’t necessarily the Mossad which first discovered what was going on in Kaliningrad – or maybe it was; we don’t know – but Yaron does claim that the Israel authorities even canceled an arms deal they had arranged with Georgia as a further incentive to get Moscow to act to do something about the “Arctic Sea.” What’s more, Israeli president Shimon Peres paid an unscheduled visit to Moscow shortly after the Russian navy “recaptured” the ship. According to official word, while there he provided “concrete proof that Iran and Syria are providing weapons to Hamas and Hizbollah.”

By the way, to tie up some other loose ends here, the American government (as well as Israel, of course) has long urged Russia not to act on the contract it does have with Iran to deliver official S-300s. Assuring cooperation on this matter could very well be one of the main motivations for the apparent turn-around in the Obama administration’s decision to station an anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic, which I discussed here a few days ago.

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