The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
African Bullet Casings Traced Back to Iran

It sounds like the basis for a James Bond movie: After a six years, forensic investigators puzzling over “anonymous” rifle cartridges in Africa have finally found the source of the munitions—Iran. C.J. Chivers has the story in the New York Times:

Iran has a well-developed military manufacturing sector, but has not exported its weapons in quantities rivaling those of the heavyweights in the global arms trade, including the United States, Russia, China and several European states. But its export choices in this case were significant …

And for the past several years … its state-manufactured ammunition was distributed through secretive networks to a long list of combatants, including in regions under United Nations arms embargoes.

The trail of evidence uncovered by the investigation included Iranian cartridges in the possession of rebels in Ivory Coast, federal troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Taliban in Afghanistan and groups affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in Niger. The ammunition was linked to spectacular examples of state-sponsored violence and armed groups connected to terrorism — all without drawing wide attention or leading back to its manufacturer.

It’s not exactly a shock that the profit motive is becoming increasingly relevant to a country whose economy is buckling under the weight of US sanctions and an EU oil embargo. And for a country facing the loss of its closest friend in its neighborhood, Iran could do with more allies in an increasingly hostile world.

Weak states in sub-Saharan Africa are becoming a major focus in the war on terror. Radical groups, drug cartels and all kinds of undesirables find it easy and convenient to do business in countries where government is often corrupt and ineffective and the writ of the authorities doesn’t run very far.

It’s no surprise that Iran has figured this out and that the bottom-fishing munitions makers of Tehran are selling whatever they can to any thug with a buck. Apparently, setting a high moral example has little to do with theocracy Iranian style.

Published on January 12, 2013 2:00 pm