The Gaza Connection, Cuba and New Shipping Sanctions
During the last Israel-Gaza conflict in 2012, we did a post on the complex North Korea-Iran-Hamas connections. Last week, The Telegraph ran a story suggesting a more direct North Korea-Hamas connection. Citing unnamed “security officials,” the story claimed that North Korea and Hamas had signed a deal for “several hundred thousand dollars,” negotiated through a Lebanese intermediary, that might have included actual rockets, components and/or communications equipment. A little-noted part of the story also made reference to tunneling technologies, at which North Korean military engineers excel. We have not seen any other news sources confirming these claims; the standard echo chamber effect all traces back to the Telegraph story. North Korea quickly and vehemently denied the story.
But the claims cannot be discounted, and come at a time of cascading legal actions and sanctions against North Korea. By coincidence, U.S. District Court judge Royce Lamberth issued a ruling last week in a case first filed in 2009 against al-Jazeera on behalf of dozens of survivors of 2006 rocket attacks by Hezbollah into Israel; the attacks killed about 50 people and wounded more than 100. The initial case claimed that Al-Jazeera had facilitated the rocket attacks by broadcasting the precise location of where the rockets had struck, thus allowing Hezbollah to readjust its fire to be more lethal. Subsequent cases were filed against North Korea pursuant to an exception in the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act for terrorism and against Iran and several Iranian banks as well. (The case follows another interesting filing in 2006 by the family of two Puerto Rican victims of the so-called Lod Airport Attack of 1972; see Calderon-Cardona vs. the DPRK [.pdf]).
The 18-page decision makes interesting reading, drawing heavily on Bruce Bechtol’s work on the issue. The decision finds that North Korea provided material support to Hezbollah that included:
- “Professional military and intelligence training and assistance in building a massive network of underground military installations, tunnels, bunkers, depots and storage facilities in southern Lebanon.” The finding notes that among noted Hezbollah members who underwent training in North Korea were Mustafa Badreddine, who served as the movement’s counter-espionage chief in the 2006 war, Ibrahim Akil, head of Hezbollah’s security and intelligence service, and as many as another hundred fighters.
- Moreover, “North Korea worked in concert with Iran and the Syria to provide rocket and missile components to Hezbollah. North Korea sent these rocket and missile components to Iran where they were assembled and shipped to Hezbollah in Lebanon via Syria.”
Nor is the 2006 case the only one of relevance. In 2009 35 tons of arms were seized in Bangkok, including rockets and rocket-propelled grenades. Investigators later confirmed that the arms were headed for Iran for transshipment to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
Although there is no evidence linking the Chong Chon Gong case to the Middle East, the Security Council committee established pursuant to UNSC Resolution 1718 issued a a finding that opens the door for more maritime sanctions. The US wasted little time in responding. Two companies, the Chongchongang Shipping Company and Ocean Maritime Management Company, were hit with Treasury sanctions last week. According to Treasury, Chongchongang Shipping Company, was the owner/operator of the Chong Chon Gang while Ocean Maritime Management Company played a key role in managing the Chong Chon Gang by providing its captain and crew with instructions to conceal the weapons and provide false documentation to the Panamanian authorities. But the biggest hit may be the Treasury decision to identify as “blocked property” another 18 vessels in which these companies have an interest; although we do not have exact information on the size of the North Korean merchant marine, this is a no doubt a significant portion of it.