February 8, 2010; How do two stolen jet fighter engines get from the United States, to Malaysia, then to Argentina, Uruguay and finally to Iran? No one is entirely sure just yet. But the two engines are still in the wind, and no other air force, except Iran's, would touch them (their parts numbers are in the hands of police everywhere).
It all began last December, when Malaysia began an investigation into the theft of two General Electric J85-21A jet engines in 2007 and 2008. Each of the six F-5 fighters used by the air force uses a pair of these engines. Packed for shipping, the engine would be a box about eight feet long and weighing half a ton. At first, the 37 year old engines were believed shipped out of the country, from a Malaysian air base, and sold into the black market. It was thought that the most likely customer would be Iran, which would probably pay a million dollars, or more, for it. Iran has been under arms embargos for decades, and is desperate to obtain spare parts. Iran has about sixty F-5 fighters, purchased in the 1970s. Iran has used the F-5 as the model for domestically designed and built aircraft. So they are definitely in the market for J85-21A engines.
For a while, it was believed that the engines never left the country, but were instead taken apart, and the components sold to a South American broker, or back to the Malaysian Air Force. But eventually, the theft was traced to an air force sergeant and a businessman, who had shipped the engines to Argentina, and then to Uruguay. This, oddly enough, puts the engines in danger of getting smuggled to Iran.
That's because Iran has had agents operating in this part of South America. Pro-Iranian terror group Hezbollah has long been involved in the drug business in this neighborhood. That gives these Iran backed Islamic terrorists access to the narcotics smuggling routes that can move anything, or anyone, just about anywhere. The Iran-sponsored Lebanese group has long been involved in narcotics and people smuggling in South America's tri-border (Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil) region. This area has long been a hotbed of illicit activity, and too many politicians and police commanders are on the take from gangsters to change this. The tri-border region is just north of Uruguay. At the moment, the government of Uruguay is cooperating with Malaysian police to track down the missing jet engines.