The notion that Iran supplies arms to Hamas is something that has become conventional wisdom in the mainstream media. I’ve been agnostic on this issue myself, although the logistical challenges of a direct Mediterranean route, given the presence of Israeli patrol boats that have besieged the territory in the last few years, have always seemed a bit daunting to me. Still, it always seemed possible that weapons originating in Iran could be smuggled into Egypt — either via Mediterranean routes or into Sudan, especially by air, and smuggled into Egypt — and then across the Sinai and through the tunnels.
So I was shocked Wednesday to hear Elliott Abrams tell reporters during a teleconference hosted by his new boss, the Council on Foreign Relations, that one route used by Iran was by ship “around the Gulf of Aden,” but not “through the Canal.” Rather, he said, “it seems that they [the shipments] hit land in places like Yemen or Somalia or, I guess, Eritrea, to some extent and then cross over into Sinai” and then into Gaza. The questioner had explicitly mentioned the widely cited Sudan route, but he didn’t mention Sudan in his answer.
Now, I didn’t tape the exchange and thus I can’t say that the above quotes are precisely accurate. CFR hasn’t yet posted a transcript, but I have no doubt that the key entrepots cited by Abrams were Yemen, Somalia, and Eritrea. But is this route credible? First, there are lots of pirates in the Gulf of Aden who would love to get their hands on such cargo for all kinds of reasons, and, second, because there are so many pirates, the area must now be one of the most heavily patrolled in the world. But, putting that aside, shipments landing in Somalia would have to be smuggled through Djibouti (where the U.S. has a major military presence) or Ethiopia, whose border with Eritrea is heavily militarized, as both countries have still not settled the border over which they fought a very bloody war ten years ago. And, even if weapons were successfully smuggled across that border (or the Red Sea from Yemen), they would still have to traverse hundreds of miles in Sudan and Egypt before getting to the Sinai.
I have to say that Abrams’ answer made me much more skeptical about the amount and significance of weaponry allegedly being supplied by Iran to Hamas.