A new report says that Iran used the cover of earthquake aid to move weapons and military equipment to Syria. The Reuters reports said that the report is based on what “nine Syrian, Iranian, Israeli and Western sources said.”
The fact that Iran was likely using the cover of earthquake aid has been suspected for three months since the February 6 earthquakes in Turkey that also damaged parts of northwest Syria.
Previous reports in the Jerusalem Post noted that Iran and Hezbollah were rushing to claim they were giving aid to Syria after the earthquake. Iran used a Qeshm Fars Air 747 to move what it claimed was aid to Damascus. Flights like this can easily conceal military equipment. In mid-February, we also speculated that Iran was taking advantage of the earthquake to smuggle aid and on February 9 a report noted, based on an interview in Saudi Arabia’s Elaph newspaper, that Israel would strike any weapons Iran sends to Syria under this pretext.
The confirmation that Iran did supply Syria with weapons and military items after the earthquake shows how cynical and dangerous Iran has become. While other countries sought to help victims, Iran’s goal was not to help Syrians, but to use Syrians and endanger them further by moving weapons.
The supplies included radar batteries and spare parts required for a planned upgrade of Syria’s Iran-provided air defense system in its civil war, said sources, two regional sources and a Western intelligence source said.
Iran moves weapons through airport affected by quakes
Iran purposely moved the aid via Aleppo International Airport. This is a new method of Iran, which previously would send munitions via Damascus, or to T-4 near Palmyra, or via other methods such as routing them through Iraq and then to Albukamal.
Aleppo airport is near areas affected by the earthquake. This is one reason moved the equipment there. Another reason is likely that it thought the flights would not appear suspicious, whereas had it sent flights there prior to the earthquake there would be a lot of focus on why Iran was flying to Aleppo. Indeed, Aleppo is near the border with Turkey and is near areas that Ankara occupies in northern Syria. It is also almost a three hour drive from Aleppo to the Lebanese border. Iran didn’t choose an airbase closer to Lebanon. The Al-Dab’a airbase was hit by an airstrike recently. Al-Dab’a is near Qusayr in Syria, and both are near the Lebanese border.
According to the report at Reuters, the shipments may have ended up with the “Syrian division of the Quds Force, the foreign espionage and paramilitary arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, led by Hassan Mehdoui. Ground transportation was handled by the Quds Force’s Transport Unit 190 led by Bahanem Shahariri, he said. Reuters was unable to reach Mehdoui and Shahariri for comment. The Revolutionary Guards declined comment.”
The report notes that “Aleppo’s runway was hit by Israel just hours after two Iranian cargo planes had landed with arms shipments under the pretext of aid relief, said a regional source, information that was confirmed by two other Western intelligence sources.” Supposedly IRGC Quds Force head Ismael Qaani flew in to the area as well, soon after the earthquake.
Iran operates in the shadows
Iran operates in the shadows in places like Syria. The extent to which it used earthquake aid as a cover isn’t known.
However, the fact that it did use it as a cover shows how cynical it is. It also shows how dangerous Iran is. The Syrian regime used the earthquake in order to get high-level meetings with other Arab countries and end its isolation. The regime has had key meetings with the UAE, Oman, Egypt and Saudi Arabia in the wake of the earthquake. In fact, Syria’s foreign minister arrived in Saudi Arabia for the first visit since 2011 this week. While the Syrian regime was working on normalization, Iran was moving weapons to Syria. This creates instability for the Syrian regime. It also undermines the regime’s narrative that it is the “government” of Syria.
If it’s the government, why do Iran and Hezbollah operate openly in Syria and not under a Syrian regime chain of command?
Iran’s role in Syria has been emboldened in the wake of the earthquake. It has carried out multiple attacks on US forces in eastern Syria using its proxies. It has also continued to threaten Israel. This illustrates that Iran’s entrenchment is not being diminished, but is continuing. That means that the post-earthquake period has actually eroded the Syrian regime’s control and yet at the same time paradoxically, the regime has been rewarded by several important Arab states, without any clear demand that Iran reduce its weapons smuggling. Now more is worse to come. Iran and Saudi Arabia are reconciling and Iran is ending its support for using Houthis as a proxy against Riyadh. Iran likely already shifted priorities to Syria from Yemen, and the earthquake weapons scandal is a key part of the shift.
Politico reported this week that Iran is in secret talks with China and Russia to acquire sanctioned missile fuel. “Tehran has held concurrent negotiations with officials and government-controlled entities from both countries, including the state-owned Russian chemical maker FKP Anozit, to acquire large amounts of ammonium perchlorate, or AP, the main ingredient in solid propellants used to power missiles, said the diplomats, who requested anonymity in order to discuss confidential information,” the report said.
Reuters reported that Russia started fuel supplies to Iran via rail. In addition, there are new reports about Iran’s potential to weaponize its drive for nuclear weapons. The top US general Mark Milley, who visited Syria in March, said the US was committed to not letting Iran have a “fielded” nuclear weapon, a word that raised eyebrows last week. The Times in the UK even ran an article two days ago claiming Israel might have to accept a nuclear Iran. Iran’s foreign minister also says the window for a return to the JCPOA won’t remain open forever.
Source » jpost