Nigeria's secret service said on Tuesday it had intercepted 13 containers of weapons from Iran in what Israeli defense sources believe may be part of a new smuggling route from Iran to Hamas in Gaza.
Rocket launchers, grenades and other explosives camouflaged as building material were seized in the Nigerian port of Lagos after being unloaded from an Iranian ship.
Nigerian media reports said the ship, which came from Iran, docked in Lagos' port for a few hours only, unloaded 13 containers and sailed on.
The bill of lading said the shipment consisted of building materials, Nigerian State Security Service spokeswoman Marilyn Ogar said.
"On opening the first container, the service operatives discovered rocket launchers, grenades and other explosives," Ogar said, adding the weapons were concealed among crates of floor tiles.
The SSS had received intelligence ahead of time about the intention to smuggle weapons in containers via Lagos and was prepared for it, reports said.
Nigerian National Security Adviser Andrew Owoye Azazi declined to say what ship carried the weapons into the port. He said the federal government would destroy the weapons.
According to the Nigerian media, the clearing agent in charge of unloading the containers from the ship offered to bribe the Nigerian customs officers to transfer the containers to an off-dock terminal, where they could be screened outside the port. The customs officials alerted the security services, who ordered the containers opened.
Israel and Nigeria maintain security, trade and diplomatic relations. About a year ago Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman visited Nigeria, accompanied by Nitzan Nuriel, director of the Counter-Terrorism Bureau.
A Foreign Ministry source said the Israeli Embassy in Nigeria was conducting talks with the SSS and the Nigerian foreign ministry in an attempt to find out more about the weapons and the investigation into the affair.
A senior defense source said preliminary information suggests the weapons' seizure has exposed a possible new arms smuggling route from Iran to Hamas, via Africa. He said the Iranians may have run into difficulties sending arms to Hamas via the Red Sea to the Sudan region and from there to Gaza via Sinai, following the beefed up international supervision on the movement of Iranian ships.
"Perhaps the Iranians were planning to unload the weapons in Nigeria and transfer them by land to Sudan and Sinai," the senior source said.
On the last day of the Israeli offensive Cast Lead in Gaza, Israel and the United States signed an agreement to fight arms smuggling from Iran to Hamas.
They set up a work team of several Western States for sharing intelligence and stopping Iranian arms smuggling via the sea to Gaza.
In March 2009 foreign media reported that Israel Air Force airplanes attacked a convoy of weapons smugglers in Sudan on its way to Gaza. Thirty-nine of the people in the convoy were killed and civilians in the area were wounded. Israel refused to confirm its involvement in the attack.
Defense officials said this could be Iran's third attempt at arms smuggling by sea that has been intercepted in the course of the past year.
In November 2009, the Israel Navy boarded the vessel Francop in the Mediterranean Sea. The ship was carring hundreds of tons of weapons from Iran to Syria or Hezbollah in Lebanon.
In September this year an arms delivery from Iran to Syria was intercepted in Italy's Calabria port. A few days later an arms shipment from North Korea to Syria was captured in a Greek port.
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