Israel accused Iran of using commercial flights to transfer weapons to Hezbollah, while a news report cites US intelligence officials as making a similar claim.
Israel sent a letter to the Secretary General of the UN on Tuesday, accusing Iran of using civilian airliners to smuggle weapons to Islamist terrorist group Hezbollah in Lebanon. In the letter, Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon stated that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) uses airlines such as Mahan Air, a privately-owned Iranian airline, for carrying military hardware. According to Danon, Quds Force officers pack arms and materiel into suitcases that are transferred to Hezbollah by commercial flights. The suitcases arrive in flights to Beirut or Damascus in Syria. They are then transferred via land to Lebanon.
“It is clear that Iran is still the primary supplier of arms and related materiel to Hezbollah, in blatant violation of numerous Security Council resolutions,” Danon wrote. “The Security Council must condemn Iran and Hezbollah for the violation of its resolutions.”
Mahan Air was targeted by sanctions in October 2011 when the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control claimed it had provided financial, material, or technological support for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force.
“Mahan Air is the airline of choice for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force, facilitating its support to terrorism across the Middle East. Mahan’s regular flights to Syria are used to prop up the Assad regime and deliver weapons, foreign fighters, and Iranian operatives who sow violence and unrest across the region,” said then-Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin. “The United States government has been very clear about the deadly role played by Mahan Air.”
Fox News reported on Monday that Western intelligence officials told them they had tracked two unscheduled flights by Qeshm Fars Air in recent months that they suspected of carrying Iranian military hardware to Hezbollah. On July 9, a Boeing-747 made an unscheduled stop in Damascus.. On August 4, another civilian flight travelled directly from Tehran to Beirut International Airport, taking an irregular route north of Syria. Intelligence officials told Fox News they surmised that the flights were carrying components for manufacturing weapons in Iranian factories inside Lebanon.
“The Iranians are trying to come up with new ways and routes to smuggle weapons from Iran to its allies in the Middle East, testing and defying the West’s abilities to track them down,” one intelligence officer told Fox News.
Iran is the number one provider of weapons to Hezbollah. In 2006, Israel and Hezbollah fought a 34-day war, sparked by the cross-border kidnap and killing of IDF troops. At the time, Hezbollah was reported to have an estimated 7,000 missiles. Last July, Danon told the UN Security Council that Hezbollah currently possesses about 120,000 missiles.
“Hezbollah has more missiles below ground in Lebanon than the European NATO allies have above ground,” Danon said at the time. He presented the UNSC with IDF intelligence including aerial photographs of Hezbollah positions and statistics about the organization’s weapons stockpiles in order to substantiate his claims.