by Stephen Bryen
Sponsored by SDB Partners LLC
The shipment of 69 Patriot missiles seized in a Finnish port were not going to South Korea. I am sure their final destination was Iran, and that the seizure is the tip of the iceberg of a huge espionage operation.
Tehran badly needs air defenses to protect against U.S. and Israeli aircraft and cruise missiles that might attack Tehran’s nuclear and missile sites. The Russian air defense system is not yet in place, and it lacks sufficient coverage to meet Iranian needs. Already feeling pressure because of significant and multiple clandestine attacks on critical missile and nuclear facilities, Iran is expecting all out war, and soon.
The Patriot may not be too good against Scud missiles, but it is an excellent air defense system that can kill jet fighters and bombers and cruise missiles. Iran does not have a competent air force and cannot challenge any western air force. So its only defense against air attack is ground launched missile interceptors. The Patriot is the best system for that purpose.
The MS Thor Liberty, a British-flagged vessel, was carrying the Patriot missiles and tons of propellant for the missiles. Not found (yet) are the radars and command and control system for the missiles. Maybe they are on the MS Thor Liberty, or maybe they were shipped separately. But it is nearly certain they would have been stolen as well as the missiles and propellant.
South Korea does have Patriot missiles, but whether the missiles they have are the same as those found on the MS Thor is not now known. What is known is that South Korea, if it wanted to buy these missiles legally, would have had to ask the Germans (where the missiles came from) to ask the U.S. for permission. This, in turn, because of the sensitivity of the shipment and the fact that these missiles are also controlled under the Missile Technology Control Regime (MCTR) would need Congressional approval. It is unlikely the South Koreans would need propellant, as they already probably make their own.
It is reported that Finland says that there were legitimate arms export documents with the Patriots on the MS Thor. Why then would the shipment be declared as “fireworks”? If such documents exist they have probably been forged or obtained through illegal means. No German export official would issue documents of this kind without the government’s approval, and there is no reason to believe that the German government would authorize such a transfer without American approval. American law says that arms exports need to be shipped in U.S. flagged ships.
I spent almost eight years as the head of the Defense Technology Security Administration in the Pentagon. My team went after what we called techno-bandits around the globe. Some of them were smuggling arms to the Soviet Union, others to Iraq and other Middle Eastern locations. I am convinced the end user here was Iran, who would get the missiles and the technical help from China.