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What Is Iran Up to in Africa?

Last month, I published a lengthy analysis on Iranian activity in Africa for the U.S. Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office. Long story short, while the United States more or less ignores Africa, the Iranians have been quite busy there. The Iranian focus is three-fold: Cultivating relationships with states that have votes on the UN Security Council and International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors; expanding ties with countries prospecting for or mining uranium; and making a hard push to find bases along littoral states in order to expand the Iranian navy’s operational reach.

There have been a number of incidents, however, to show that Iranian outreach is more malign:

  • In 2010, Nigerian authorities seized crates of weaponry in the Port of Lagos. Iranian authorities claimed the weapons were purchased legally by Gambia. That the ship’s manifest labeled the crates as construction material certainly raises questions.
  • In 2011, Senegalese authorities briefly severed diplomatic relations with Iran after discovering an Iranian arms shipment allegedly destined for separatist rebels in the southern Senegalese Casamance region.
  • In 2012, Yemeni authorities alleged that Iran was supplying weaponry to Houthi rebels in that country’s north. The Iranians denied responsibility, and blamed Togo, which apparently was transshipping the weaponry at Iran’s behest.

Let us hope that African governments are beginning to understand that relations with Iran carry a high price. Yesterday, a Nigerian court convicted an alleged Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officer over the 2010 weapons smuggling incident. The conviction comes just over a week after a Kenyan court jailed Iranians allegedly supporting terrorists in that East African nation. That the Iranian government is denying responsibility in both cases should not surprise; the Iranians always seek plausible deniability. At the very least, however, it is essential to recognize that the Islamic Republic takes seriously the concept of “Export of Revolution” whether the United States chooses to recognize it or not.


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