We previously detailed how after seven years of a the failed attempt at regime change in Syria, the next target is Hezbollah, itself a key player throughout the war in successfully defending Damascus.
Part of these efforts of the Western-Gulf military alliance will be to wage a powerful propaganda war, which appears to have already begun in earnest.
This week Israeli, Saudi, and US media sources have released multiple reports claiming Iran is now routinely smuggling weapons and missile manufacturing equiment into Lebanon through the use of civilian aircraft, in order to provide a steady resupply stream to Hezbollah.
The reports rely heavily on unnamed Western intelligence officials, who say that at least two recent flights have taken off between Tehran and Beirut that were observed "flying unusual routes".
A new story published in the Times of Israel, based on a Fox News interview with the intelligence officials, describes:
According to the report, two flights operated by Qeshm Fars Air flights made trips from Tehran to Beirut, flying an irregular route. One Boeing 747 flight on July 9 made a stop in Damascus, Syria. The second flight on August 4, directly from Tehran to Beirut, but followed “a slightly irregular route north of Syria”...
While at first glance we might note that of course civilian airline flights would prefer to take an "irregular route" flying over a war zone in which jihadist insurgents possess MANPADS and other advanced weaponry that could take out aircraft flying above, it's also no earth-shattering revelation that Tehran has long supplied the powerful Lebanese paramilitary group.
But perhaps more worrisome is the new information or angle to this story: after a bombshell Reuters report last week quoted Iranian, Iraqi, and US sources as saying Iran has transferred short range ballistic missiles to Shia allies in Iraq, the new allegations suggest Iran is also ramping up missile manufacturing capabilities in Lebanon as well, which would put Israel within even closer proximity to powerful Iranian missile systems.
The original Fox report fingers Qeshm Fars Air flights as being part of the Iranian clandestine missile and weapons transports:
Western intelligence sources said the airplane carried components for manufacturing precise weapons in Iranian factories inside Lebanon. The U.S. and Israel, as well as other western intelligence agencies, have supplied evidence that Iran has operated weapons factories in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
The establishment of such Iranian-sponsored facilities in Lebanon, should the allegations be confirmed, would indeed be an escalation.
Israeli defense officials will no doubt seize upon such reports to potentially justify further violations of Lebanese and Syrian airspace, and more military intervention in the Syrian theatre.
Citing the Fox sources, the UAE-based The National summarizes the suspicious make-up of Qeshm Fars Air its continuing operations, saying "Three members of the airline’s board are members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the elite force tasked with protecting the security of the state."
The National further notes "It shuttered in 2013 before relaunching in March 2017".
One widely cited "regional intelligence source" told Fox, “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.”
Last May when President Trump pulled the US out of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, he specifically cited Iranian weapons proliferation across the Middle East, and its covertly supplying US designated terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.
Though analysts accused Iran of such cross regional weapons transfers originating from Tehran even before the war in Syria in 2011, the West has throughout the conflict accused Iran of greatly intensifying its efforts.
One outspoken analyst on the issue, the Chatham House's Lina Al Khatib, told The National: “This practice has intensified with the Syrian war and with Iran’s ally Hezbollah tightening its indirect control over Beirut International Airport. This indirect control is due to key personnel of the Airport Security apparatus being members of Hezbollah or loyal to the group.”
However, Beirut International Airport is not a large or sprawling airport by international or regional standards, which would make any large scale weapons smuggling difficult in terms of avoiding the detection of Lebanese authorities or Israeli intelligence to say the least.
Lebanon’s aviation authorities have denied the accusation that such Iranian flights are using Lebanese airspace for such purposes, according to The National.