Iran, munitions and the BBC

Iranian Arms
Iranian arms shipment intended for Hizballah, intercepted by Israeli navy

Back in late October 2012 an explosion at an arms factory in Khartoum had the BBC rushing to suggest Israeli involvement despite a distinct lack of evidence. In two articles published on consecutive days, as well as a television report and another article a few days later, BBC journalists focused on the conjecture of Israeli involvement in the explosion – at the expense of any kind of serious investigation into the activities at the site itself. 

Such focus on the surmised symptom rather than on the actual issue of Iranian arms dealing and smuggling is not exclusive to the BBC: much of the Western media unfortunately does the same, with the result being that Iran’s actions are too often perceived as an exclusively “Israeli problem”.

A December 2012 report by Conflict Armament Research entitled “The Distribution of Iranian Ammunition in Africa” was recently highlighted by the New York Times. The report provides evidence of Iranian ammunition being used in several African conflicts.

 “And for the past several years, even as Iran faced intensive foreign scrutiny over its nuclear program and for supporting proxies across the Middle East, 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.

The ammunition, matched to the world’s most abundant firearms, has principally been documented in Africa, where the researchers concluded that untold quantities had been supplied to governments in Guinea, Kenya, Ivory Coast and, the evidence suggests, Sudan.

From there, it traveled to many of the continent’s most volatile locales, becoming an instrument of violence in some of Africa’s ugliest wars and for brutal regimes. And while the wide redistribution within Africa may be the work of African governments, the same ammunition has also been found elsewhere, including in an insurgent arms cache in Iraq and on a ship intercepted as it headed for the Gaza Strip.”

As stellar blogger Challah Hu Akbar points out, the same report also links Iran to that munitions factory in Sudan where an explosion occurred in October 2012. For example: 

“In January 2007 Iran and Sudan reportedly signed a military cooperation agreement and initiated discussions on the sale of Iranian weapons, including ‘Iranian missiles, RPGs, UAVs and other equipment’. Conflict Armament Research has received credible reports that the Yarmouk Industrial Complex (YIC) in Khartoum serves as a production/onward shipment facility for Iranian/ Iranian-designed weapons.”

In order to meet its self-declared obligation to “enhance UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues” it would of course be helpful if the BBC could curb the temptation to reflexively present issues relating to Iranian arms trafficking within an Israel-related framework and instead focus upon widening its perspectives and hence better informing audiences as to the effects of those activities on the stability of additional regions in the world.  

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