Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Francop - Iranian Arms Intercepted

First off, i appologize for the lack of any regular updates recently, i've been consumed by a fairly large collaborative project i'm working on, after this is done (no telling when) the Arkenstone should return to regularly scheduled updates.

The Francop - Iranian Arms Intercepted

It's an open secret that Iran arms Hezbollah, the government of Iran, practically stopping just short of formally admitting it. It was only a matter of time before Iran's arms shipments were intercepted and they were caught red-handed.

In early November 2009, the Israeli navy intercepted the German-owed Francop traveling from Egypt to Cyprus and finally, to Syria. The ship's crew were ostensibly in the dark, believing they were taking on a legitimate cargo when they loaded the IRISL (Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lanes) containers in Damietta, Egypt.

However, following a boarding action by Israeli naval commandos belonging to the elite "Shahyetet 13" unit, over 500 tons of arms were uncovered hidden within the shipping containers.

Most arms transfers from Iran to Hezbollah involve air transfers through Syrian airports , a risk-free path, so this raises the question why Iran would deliberately use this riskier approach. Some have taken this to indicate that the whole operation was a false-flag mission orchestrated by Israel in order to draw attention away from the Goldstone report, which criticized Israels operations in the 2008/2009 Gaza conflict, or to garner support for a strike on Iran. Though this has not been backed up by any concrete evidence.

But luckily for us, thanks to the growing relevance of the media landscape in contemporary conflict, this incident also allowed us a very detailed glimpse into what kind of weapons Iran is giving Hezbollah. Though one interesting possibility is that Iran is transferring all their"low tech" weaponry by sea, allowing for a more efficient operation due to the relative ease at which a large volume can be shipped vs flown, meanwhile, all the "high tech" equipment like ATGM's, surveillance and communication equipment is flown as they are relatively smaller, and much more valuable on a cubic-meter basis. Of course, this is pure supposition.

A few of the crates bore the label "Ministry of the Sepah" - an entity which was dismantled more then a decade ago. Some, including Irans own PressTV, have claimed that this proves the false-flag hypothesis. However, it's much more realistic to assume that these are merely old crates, which is backed up by the presence of equally old equipment such as the Chinese small arms ammunition and Soviet rockets.

According to Israeli estimates, the total amount of weapons intercepted are:
500 tons in 36 shipping containers
5,700 60 mm mortar bombs
2,300 81 mm mortar bombs
780 120 mm mortar bombs
700 122 mm rockets
3,000 107 mm rockets
3,000 106 mm recoilless rifle shells
20,000 F1 hand grenades
600,000 rounds of small arms ammunition

The following images are courtesy of the Israeli Ministry Foreign Affairs

60 mm Mortar Bomb
These mortars are instantly recognizable as Iranian, due to the presence of the AZ111-A2 fuze as well as the basic design, including lot-number, date configuration, fin design and ribbed body. The mortars are carried in plastic tubes with carrying straps in contrast to the usual disposable tubes usually seen.

As always, click the image for a larger, higher quality image

81 mm Mortar Bomb
Also recognizable as Iranian for the same reasons as the 60 mm model, but with these, they are in the more common rigid-paper tubes reminiscent of those found on Iranian mortars recovered from Iraq and the Karine-A shipment intercepted in 2002. Though interestingly enough, the designation of "M91" is a previously unknown mortar type, compared to the advertised M43A1 type.

120 mm Mortar Bomb
The 120 mm mortar bomb matches the Iranian designation perfectly, the 120 mm M48 HE mortar. They were packed into a rigid-paper tube in the same style as the 81 mm mortar.

106 mm Anti-tank shell
The 106 mm HEAT shell is fired from the M40 recoilless rifle used by Iran and Hezbollah alike.

At first glance, the shells appear to be Iranian, bearing the trademark black coating and yellow markings. However, at second glance, a few inconsistencies arise; first are the crates, they're obviously old, with flaking paint and rusted hinges, and perhaps most interesting, they're marked all in Spanish. Of course, Iran could just be reusuing the crates, but this isn't very logical given that the crates are really just a few pieces of wood and sheet metal. Furthermore, the shells exact markings are distinctly, un-Iranian, they match those on the Spanish crates. Though just because they're not Iranian-made doesn't mean they didn't come from Iran, the 122 mm rockets are evidence enough that Iran was probably shipping Hezbollah inventory from it's near or past-expiration date stock.

107 mm Rocket
Definitly the most interesting of the cargo, the otherwise mundane 107 mm rocket represents a radical departure from the usual Hezbollah inventory. While it would seem logical that Iran would be shipping 107 mm rockets to Hezbollah, after all, they're the exact same type as those found in Iraq, they've actually never been used by Hezbollah (at least widespread use). This is presumably because of their short range which would limit their use as a strategic weapon.

Another interesting facet is that, unlike the rockets recovered in Iraq which exclusively (as far as the publicly released pictures tell anyway) had HE warheads, those found on the Francop all had HEI warheads which might indicate that Hezbollah is revamping the idea of firebombing an enemies population like the allied forces strategic bombing campaign from WWII, or even starting wildfires. Though i must confess, i cannot say how likely it would be for a wildfire to spread in northern Israel.

At any rate, their markings are identical to those found in Iraq, indicating their origin as Iranian.

122 mm Rockets
The 122 mm rockets shown were not Iranian-made, but rather, of Soviet manufacture dating from 1987. This means that they are past their optimal shelf life, though due to the simple nature of the rocket, they are likely still operational, if with reduced accuracy, or with increased chance to fail. This would explain why Hezbollah would be receiving them.

The specific type of rockets shown were the basic M-21OF HE-FRAG rockets manufactured in the USSR. They were also shipped with a number of fuses.

Hand Grenade
The grenades found were reminiscent of the US mk II hand grenade, and are notably different from the model advertised for export. They were stored in plastic cases similar to those used for carrying the 60 mm mortar.

Small Arms Ammunition
The ammunition being smuggled was of the 7.62x54 variety used with the AK-47 family of rifles, though it's actually marked as 7.62x53. My understanding is that the actual size of the cartridge is x53.5, the Russians rounded up and got the x54 we know today while other countries rounded differently. Regardless, they are both the same rounds.

They appear to be from older stocks, like the 106 mm AT shells and the 122 mm rockets, presumably from China.