Seized North Korean arms shipment was destined for Egypt

Huge North Korean arms shipment stopped at sea was destined for Egyptian military
3 min read
02 October, 2017
A US tip-off to Egyptian customs agents prevented a huge shipment of North Korean arms entering the country. After investigating the RPGs
North Korea has been supplying arms to Egypt [AFP]
A shipment of North Korean arms onboard a Cambodian flagged ship was stopped by Egyptian customs agents last August following a tip off by US intelligence.  

Hidden under bins of iron ore the Egyptian officials discovered 30,000 rocket propelled grenades. After further checks the agents found that the North Korean-made weapons were in fact destined for the Egyptian military, the New York Times reported.

The ship's cargo contained 79 crates filled with North Korean copies of the Soviet made RPG-7 missile.

A UN report into the incident uncovered a shocking link between North Korean state and Egypt, despite an international embargo on the pariah Asian state following a series of nuclear and missile tests.

The UN stated it was the "largest seizure of ammunition in the history of sanctions against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea [North Korea]".

"On-site analysis revealed that they were not of recent production but rather had been stockpiled for some time," the report added.

The arms deal between Cairo and Pyongyang took place despite relations between the US and North Korea hit an exceptional low point.

Provocative North Korean posturing and a ratcheting up of rhetoric between Washington and Pyongyang has seen even North Korea's Asian ally China take a tougher line against Kim Jung Un's regime.

Read also: Snubbing North Korea might not be an option for Egypt

This didn't stop Egyptian business leaders agreeing to buy more North Korean arms on behalf of the country's military, although great efforts were made to keep the transaction hidden from the US and UN.

Once discovered, the incident led to a US complaints to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's regime about its relationship with North Korea. The US also delayed $300 million in military aid to Egypt with Cairo agreeing to cut ties with North Korea.

"Egypt will continue to abide by all Security Council resolutions and will always be in conformity with these resolutions as they restrain military purchases from North Korea," an Egyptian government statement said.

Such clandestine arms agreements have been a vital source of income for the North Korean government which faces an unprecedented international embargo. China cut oil supplies to Pyongyang leading to spiraling prices in at the pumps in North Korea.

It is not known if North Korea received the $23 million for the rockets shipment but the transaction puts Egypt on a black list of buyers that includes Myanmar, Iran, Syria, Eritrea and Cuba.

North Korea and its customers have gone to great lengths to keep such transactions secret. The ship bound for Egypt from a North Korean port flew a Cambodian flag, the US daily reported, the detract attention away from its cargo.

But all 23 members of the crew were North Korean including a commissar tasked with keeping discipline onboard the ship.

Cairo's military ties with Pyongyang go back to the 1970s with around 180,000 North Korean RPG-7 tubes in service with the Egyptian military.

"Egypt was a consistent North Korean customer in the past," said Andrea Berger from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey told the New York Times. "I would call them a 'resilient' customer today."