Egyptian authorities last August intercepted a North Korean cargo ship carrying tens of thousands of rockets allegedly bound for Egyptian buyers in violation of worldwide sanctions against Pyongyang, the Washington Post reported Sunday.
The ship carrying the weapons to Egypt was spotted in the summer of 2016 by U.S. intelligence, which tracked it as it left North Korea with a North Korean crew and watched it sail westward toward the Gulf of Aden and the Suez Canal.
The discovery, which led to what a United Nations report later described as the "largest seizure of ammunition in the history of sanctions against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea", exposed one in a series of secret deals between the two countries that prompted U.S. complaints to Egypt and the Trump administration's decision over the summer to freeze or delay military aid to Cairo worth almost $300 million.
Egypt's purchase was foiled when USA intelligence officials spotted a rusty freighter flying Cambodian colors chugging toward the Suez Canal. They discovered the weapons hidden under rocks of iron ore: more than 24,000 rocket-propelled grenades, and completed components for 6,000 more.
Following the United Nations report, the Trump administration decided in July to withhold $290 million in military aid cut out for Egypt over its military deals with North Korea, which, according to the report, has become "a kind of global eBay for vintage and refurbished Cold War-era weapons".
The same anonymous sources told the Washington Post that a "UN investigation" found that Egypt was the original buyer of the shipment.
Although the Egyptian Embassy in Washington claimed Cairo had cooperated with the United Nations by detecting and destroying the arms - thus abiding by United Nations restrictions on arms purchases from Pyongyang - U.S. officials said that Washington had essentially forced Cairo to foil the shipment by alerting authorities through diplomatic channels. North Korea continues to profit from selling cheap weapons and hardware to Burma, Cuba, Syria, Eritrea, and at least two terror groups, analysts said in the Post report. According to the Post, the illicit arms trading is a "vital financial lifeline" that sustains North Korean dictator Kim Jong Um. "I would call them a "resilient" customer today". One of their favorite tactics is to register their ships under foreign flags to avoid attention, as the Jie Shun was registered in Cambodia. "Cairo got the message and it cut ties with North Korea".
When the freeze of Egyptian military aid was announced in August, the Diplomat reflected that Egypt has maintained an uncomfortably close relationship with North Korea since the 1950s, when North Korea backed Gamal Abdel Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal.
Egyptian-owned Orascom was also commissioned to build North Korea's state-owned 3G cell phone network and Cairo has provided North Korea with much-needed hard currency in exchange for training Egyptian scientists in weapons technology.
However, U.S. officials said that the delivery was intercepted after U.S. intelligence spotted the vessel and contacted Egyptian authorities, basically forcing them to take action, the Post report said.