Iran using aid flight for arms delivery

Long-held suspicions the Ayatollah regime has exploited humanitarian shipments following devastating earthquakes in Syria has now been confirmed.

By Erin Viner

Iran has used earthquake relief flights to bring weapons and military equipment into its strategic ally Syria, nine Syrian, Iranian, Israeli and Western sources said in an exclusive published by Reuters.

Reuters spoke to Western intelligence officials, sources close to the Iranian and Israeli leadership as well as a Syrian military defector and a serving Syrian officer about the flights for the report.

The sources said the goal was to buttress Iran’s defenses against Israel in Syria, while strengthening Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

After the 6 February earthquake in northern Syria and Turkey, hundreds of flights from Iran began landing in Syria’s Aleppo, Damascus and Latakia airports to bring supplies, and this went on for seven weeks, said the sources. More than 6,000 people died in all of Syria, according to the United Nations.

The deliveries included advanced communications equipment and radar batteries and spare parts required for a planned upgrade of Syria’s Iran-provided air defense system in its civil war, said the sources, two regional sources and a Western intelligence source said.

Syria’s government did not respond to a request for comment.

Regional sources told Reuters that Israel quickly became aware of the flow of weapons into Syria and mounted an aggressive campaign to counter it.

Jerusalem officials have acknowledged mounting hundreds of attacks on Iranian-linked targets in Syria from which the Islamic Republic and its proxies have tried to attack neighboring Israel over the last decade.

IDF Brigadier General (Ret.) Yossi Kuperwasser, an insider and former head of research in the Israel army as well as ex-general director of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, who is a frequent guest on TV7 programs, said Israeli air strikes against the shipments relied on intelligence so specific that Jerusalem’s military knew which truck in a long convoy to target.

An Israeli defense official, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters: “Under the guise of shipments of earthquake aid to Syria, Israel has seen significant movements of military equipment from Iran, mainly transported in parts.”

He said the aid was mainly delivered to Syria’s northern Aleppo airport. Shipments were organized, he said, by the Unit 18000 Syrian division of the Quds Force, the foreign espionage and paramilitary arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), 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 IRGC also declined to comment.

“Israel’s strikes also targeted a meeting of commanders of Iranian militias and shipments of electronic chips to upgrade weapons systems,” said Syrian military defector Colonel Abduljabbar Akaidi, who retains army contacts. Akaidi did not say where the meeting was held.

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.

Brigadier General Esmail Qaani, head of the IRGC Quds Force, was the first foreign official to set foot in Syria’s quake zone – a few days before Assad himself arrived. Reuters could not reach Qaani for comment.

When asked if Iran had used humanitarian relief planes after the earthquakes to move military equipment to Syria to enhance its network there and help Assad, Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York said: “That’s not true.”

In the event of a humanitarian catastrophe, UN relief planes are allowed to seek landing rights from local authorities and humanitarian goods are exempt from sanctions.

Syrian authorities have also granted landing rights to direct flights coming from Russia and Iran.

“The quake was a sad disaster but at the same time it was God’s help to us to help our brothers in Syria in their fight against their enemies. Loads of weapons were sent to Syria immediately,” said a regional source close to Iran’s clerical leadership.

Israel has for years been carrying out attacks against Iran-linked targets in Syria, where the Ayatollah regime’s influence has grown since it began supporting President Assad. Western intelligence officials say the Islamic Republic has stepped up aerial weapons shipments to its terrorist proxies, including the Hezbollah terror organization, which now control large areas of eastern, southern and northern Syria and in several suburbs around the capital.

A Syrian army officer who asked not to be named said the Israelis were stepping up efforts to defeat Iran in Syria.

“Why now? Simply because they have information that something is being developed quickly. They must stop it and hit it to slow it. The quake created the right conditions. The chaos that ensued allowed Iranian jets to land with ease,” he said.

In the aftermath of further earthquakes on 3 April, Israeli targets have included weapons warehouses in the Jabal Manea Kiswa mountain range south of Damascus where Iran’s troops and its proxy, the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror organization, have built what is likely their most fortified military site in Syria, stated a regional security source and two Western intelligence sources.

A radar station used for drones was also hit on 3 April, the regional source added, corroborating what two Western intelligence sources had told Reuters.

“We believe that Iranian militias have transferred huge quantities of ammunition – they have restocked quantities lost in previous Israeli drone strikes,” a Western intelligence source said, referring to Iranian flights since the 6 February earthquake.