At an unusual press briefing on Monday, U.S. military officials provided the first physical evidence of Iranian arms shipments to Iraqi extremist groups. The display, which the New York Times called “extraordinary,” consisted of explosively formed penetrators, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and a shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile reportedly found in Iraq and bearing Iranian markings. Notably, the officials also claimed to have proof that the operation was being directed by “the highest levels of the Iranian government,” a claim that was rigorously denied by Tehran.
The briefing raised more questions than it answered. Topping the list are questions about the extent of the Iranian government’s involvement in the arms shipments. Defense Department officials reportedly provided little proof for their claims of high-level involvement by the Iranian government, and the next day General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chief of staff, appeared to contradict them. Commenting on the captured weaponry, Pace conceded that the weapons “[do] not translate to that the Iranian government per se, for sure, is directly involved in doing this.” Yesterday President Bush sided with General Pace, confirming that “we don’t…know whether the head leaders of Iran ordered the Quds force to do what they did.”
The captured weapons themselves are also puzzling. Not only were they reportedly manufactured in Iran, they are also emblazoned with manufacture dates and lot numbers – hardly indicative of a government that wants to maintain “plausible deniability.” Architects of covert aid programs usually go to great lengths to conceal their government’s involvement by purchasing weapons from foreign suppliers and clandestinely shipping them through third countries. The Iranians apparently did neither. Why?