Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Shipped in Plain Sight

As the tale of the “New Karine A” develops, one alarm bell it sets off concerns the ease with which the arms transshipment was brought off in plain sight. The ship the Israelis caught with the arms was M/V Francop, a freighter operated by Cyprus-based United Feeder Services. The crew onboard didn’t know what they were carrying, and didn’t carry it from Iran anyway: they picked their cargo up in Damietta, Egypt. The Israelis had tracked Francop from Beirut to Damietta and knew the cargo was loaded there. That means the arms themselves were shipped from Iran to Egypt by other means. Sounds like a story we’ve heard before about Port Sudan and overland convoys to Gaza, right?

Not really. The port of Damietta is neither a remote spot in the desert nor a sleepy Sudanese port. It’s one of Egypt’s premier seaports, located on the Mediterranean near the entrance to the Suez Canal. Damietta has some distinctive claims to fame: it’s in a heavily promoted Egyptian free-trade zone and is operated by DIPCO, an international consortium of private maritime-service companies whose pathbreaking development project at Damietta serves as a model for a global trend toward the private development and operation of ports.

Private administration of customs and cargo verification, the functions that might detect arms shipments, is not unusual. But under these conditions, transshipments of cargo through free-trade zones — shipments offloaded only to await further transportation to another country — are especially likely to receive a hand wave. The port operator’s priority is to tally containers and assess fees, not to break open containers and inspect their contents. Damietta’s convenient location in the eastern Mediterranean means that transshipments represent a large majority of its container traffic. Most of what stops there is merely waiting onward transportation and interests neither Egypt nor the port-services operator.

A big shipment from Iran, meanwhile, would raise no eyebrows in Damietta. Iran’s state shipping line, IRISL, was one of the first shipping companies to contract with DIPCO for services in Damietta, and two of IRISL’s subsidiaries make regular stops there. Containers bearing the IRISL logo are routinely present.

It would be hard to dream up a set of circumstances more conducive to perfunctory supervision of cargo. But these same circumstances represent a cash cow for Egypt. Private companies optimizing the profitability of port operations are a moneymaker, not only for growing economies but also for the Middle Eastern nations in which many of the companies (like DIPCO’s leader, Kuwait & Gulf Lines Ltd.) are based. The beneficiaries of this trend will kick hard against any inefficiency introduced by the administration of UN sanctions. Ultimately, intermediate transshipment ports aren’t going to represent effective pressure points for arms interdiction. The most effective pressure point would, as usual, be Iran itself, and that reality demands not so much administrative meticulousness as political will.


Join the discussion…

Are you a subscriber? Log in to comment »

Not a subscriber? Join the discussion today, subscribe to Commentary »





Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.