Daily Israel Report

Gambia Cuts Ties with Iran, Expels Iranian Diplomats

The tiny African nation of Gambia has cut all ties with Iran and given its diplomats 48 hours to leave.
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 11/24/2010, 10:19 AM / Last Update: 11/24/2010, 10:42 AM

The Republic of Gambia has cut all ties with Iran and given its diplomats 48 hours to leave following suspicion that Iran sent arms and drugs to the African country.

Illegal Iranian shipments of heroin and arms sent last month were apparently headed for Gambia, according to an article published in the UK-based Financial Times.

Nigerian officials intercepted crates of missiles and other ordnance marked as “building materials” during inspection at the port of Lagos. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki later tried to explain away the incident as a “misunderstanding” -- but last week a second crisis arose when a container arrived in the port from Iran filled with packets of heroin.

Nigerian authorities said they believe the weapons were intended for Gambia, in violation of sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council. The incident was reported to the world body. It is not clear where the heroin was headed, but officials said it is possible that this shipment, too, may have been going to Gambia.

The tiny western African nation, home to some 1.7 million people, is primarily Sunni Muslim although its official language is English. The smallest country on the mainland African continent, Gambia has been governed for 16 years by President Yahya Jammeh, who seized power in a coup in 1994 but who subsequently continued as an elected leader.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has spent years working to build up the relationship between the Islamic Republic and various African nations. He exchanged state visits with the Gambian president in 2006 and returned for a official visit to the country in 2009.

Ahmadinejad has also been exceptionally successful in extending Iran’s diplomatic relations with various nations in South America and in the Middle East, tightening Tehran’s ties with Venezuela, Brazil, Turkey Syria, and Lebanon.