Africa, land of contradictions: once Joseph Conrad’s heart of darkness, now recognized and acknowledged as a continent bursting at the seams with mineral wealth and untold natural resources; with wildlife in abundance, with rivers and streams, deserts and forests, vast plains and high mountains; a continent with countries whose climates range from freezing cold to boiling heat; a continent of obscene wealth and grinding poverty; a continent ruled by autocracies and theocracies; democracies and dictatorships; terrorism and transition.
Africa: a continent up for grabs, and today firmly in the sights not only of Muslim fundamentalists who freely offer aid and assistance in return for huge political paybacks, but also of Iran, whose increasing involvement with rebel groups augurs dangerously for the fragile stability that characterizes so many African countries.
Iran arms Hamas in Gaza; Iran arms Hezbollah; Iran arms Syria, the Kurdish world, the Taliban. And now Iran is supplying ammunition to some of Africa’s most fearsome, dangerous terrorist and guerilla groups in return for the inevitable: fealty to the Iranian government. Like a malevolent octopus Iran has spread its tentacles around the most formidable Middle East regimes and terrorist groups: and today it exercises a malign influence in Africa, exporting its lethal aid and expertise to foment violence across the continent.
In Darfur in the Sudan, in Conakry in Guinea, in the Coite d’Ivoire, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Kenya and in Niger, in the southern Casamance region of Senegal, and in The Gambia, rebels, federal troops and groups affiliated with Al- Qaeda cells are the recipients of Iranian small arms ammunition. Until it became public knowledge, the Iranian government refrained from imprinting factory codes on the ammunition to preserve its anonymity and thus allow it to continue playing its destructive and deceitful role in the areas of protracted conflict in Africa. At present, but who knows for how long, Iran is holding back on the distribution of larger and more lethal weapons like landmines and cluster bombs, the sorts that garner international condemnation, in favour of a slow, steady and low-key integration into these groups, first gaining their confidence and their dependence on the supplier. In the meantime, Iranian ammunition is to a large extent responsible for the violence that characterises some of the continent’s ugliest wars which are being perpetrated by the most brutal regimes.
Resolution 1747 bans Iranian arms exports under Chapter 7 authority. The resolution was passed in response to Iran’s defiance of UN demands that it halt its nuclear enrichment programme, a programme Iran says will be used for peaceful and not aggressive purposes. But Iran defied the resolution by supplying weapons, funds and intelligence, as well as Hezbollah fighters and Revolutionary guards, to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in his bid to crush the opposition. In addition, Iranian Ilyushin 76 transport aircraft have been sighted on the tarmac at Khartoum Airport in Sudan, giving rise to an understanding of how Tehran is providing drones to the Assad regime. With total impunity Iran has ignored the Resolution, instead continuing audaciously with its policy of small-arming Africa.
And in another twist to the tale of this country, arguably the greatest threat to world peace and hell-bent on sucking Africa into its maelstrom of intrigue and corruption, it has now been confirmed by reliable sources that Iran has supplied Syria’s security forces with specialist mobile tracking equipment able to intercept satellite phones and other satellite broadcasting equipment. Without it, the Syrian uprising could possibly have been more easily contained and the overwhelming tragedy of the deaths of so many innocent Syrians been averted.
Over the years Iran’s defence industry has grown exponentially and today produces tanks, rockets, bombs, guns, armoured vehicles, guided missile systems, aircraft, UAV, helicopters, ships and submarines. Through its sophisticated electronics, radars and satellites, Iran is on a mission to enhance its military capabilities in order to increase its self-reliance in the military sphere; to deter potential threats from the USA, Israel, Iraq and Turkey; and to “bridge the gap between its military weakness and its image of itself as a regional power and the standard bearer of revolutionary Islam.”
A recently published report in the NY Times, authored by a group of independent arms-tracking experts, discussed how Kenya had imported huge quantities of Iranian ammunition, some of which has been transferred to civilian militias in Turkana, Uganda and South Sudan. This shipment was estimated to be in the range of millions of rounds of ammuntion, a portion of which has appeared in the arsenals of militias in northern Kenya and neighbouring countries.
Small arms ammunition is the fuel that keeps many of Africa’s and the rest of the world’s conflicts raging. They do not themselves cause conflict (the Americans would agree with that, given their obsession with owning guns and their belief that it is not guns that kill, but people) but they certainly make it deadlier. Yet when there is a shortage of bullets, fighting can be reduced or even halted. According to research done on conflict areas in Africa, fighters in the Central African Republic have been known to discard their weapons because they lacked the right bullets for them. This should be a wake-up call for the world.
By international standards, states have a right to acquire ammunition for legitimate self-defence and law enforcement. But irresponsible transfers of ammunition can have a massive impact on people and their communities. This has certainly not deterred Iran, which continues its involvement in the conflicts in Afghanistan, in Bulgaria and Georgia, in Thailand and Azerbaijan, and in almost all of Africa.
Israel has long had a foothold in Africa, assisting with agricultural projects in a number of countries including South Africa; dispensing medical aid and education both as part of the government’s organised Mashav programme and during times of natural disasters. Israel’s intellectual capital is one of its greatest asset; shared freely with the disadvantaged people of Africa, expecting nothing in return other than the satisfaction of knowing that it has made a difference to the people. Graduates of the new 2013 Mashav programmes, which will be of incalculable benefit to many African countries, will again arrive in those African countries most in need, and most willing to accept Israel’s outstretched hand.
Iran, however, offers something completely different. Iran offers a continuation of the devastating conflicts that characterize often the poorest of countries. Iran offers small arms ammunition to promote and disseminate violence and brutality. Iran offers bribes in the form of oil in return for dedication to the cause of war and fealty as payback. And now Iran is moving towards producing nuclear weapons not, according to the IAEA (international Atomic Energy Agency), as the regime protests, for peaceful means, but in order to become the dominant world power, intent on destroying Israel – and in the attempt, many other Middle East countries – through its aggressive nuclear programme. And many in Africa endorse that programme. Sudan has repeatedly supported Iran’s nuclear program in its public rhetoric, proving to be a consistent and vocal supporter of its contentious nuclear program. Algerian leaders have publicly backed Iran’s ongoing nuclear program on numerous occasions, supporting its rights to “peaceful nuclear technology.” Gambia views Iran’s right to possess nuclear energy as beneficial to increasing Gambian and other independent nations’ advancement by acquiring nuclear energy technology, in return for Iranian aid to Gambia’s security, intelligence, and agricultural development. And Tunisia too has praised the Iranian government for its nuclear successes, and spin-doctored past IAEA reports so to assure people that they clearly attest to the “thoroughly peaceful” nature of the Iranian nuclear program.
It may well be that in the end, Israel will be the only country brave enough to take the necessary steps to confront and ultimately destroy this evil.