WASHINGTON — Iran is using a civilian airline to smuggle arms to the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, Fox News reported Monday, citing Western intelligence officials who tracked two unscheduled flights in recent months.
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,” Fox said.
The intelligence officials told Fox the flights were believed to be carrying components for manufacturing precise 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,” a regional intelligence officer told Fox.
Israel has made similar charges before, with Israel’s ambassador to the UN Danny Danon sending a letter to Security Council members in 2016, warning Iran was using civilian airlines to supply the terrorists.
Fox said Qeshm Fars Air flights is loosely affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
Iran is Hezbollah’s chief patron, having helped set up the group in the early 1980s. Since then, Iran has supplied Hezbollah with a range of weapons and helped fund its social programs in southern Lebanon, and has used the group to carry out terrorist attacks against American and Israeli targets.
Hezbollah has grown into the Israeli military’s primary threat in the region, with an arsenal of between 100,000 to 150,000 mortar shells, rockets, and missiles. According to Israeli and Western intelligence officials, Iran has been helping Hezbollah develop precision-guided missiles, with which the group has the capability to stage a more successful attack on Israel.
At Iran’s behest, Hezbollah has become deeply embroiled in the Syrian civil war, fighting in a Shiite alliance alongside Iranian forces, the Assad regime and Iraqi militias against primarily Sunni rebels.
Israel has reportedly carried out dozens of airstrikes in Syria since the civil war began in a bid to stop the smuggling of advanced weapons to Hezbollah, but has otherwise refrained from becoming involved in the deadly conflict that has engulfed the country.
The head of the Israeli military’s Northern Command issued a clear threat to Hezbollah and its Iranian patron on Monday, saying Israel’s next war with the terrorist group would be its last.
“[Hezbollah] will feel the force of our arm. I hope there won’t be another war, but if there is, it won’t be another Second Lebanon War, but the final northern war,” said Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick at a conference organized by the Hadashot TV news outlet.
The Northern Command chief also mocked Hezbollah’s Iranian sponsors as having more bark than bite, noting that it took three months before the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps retaliated for an Israeli strike against it earlier this year.
“It has to be said straightforwardly — they have a lot less than they planned. We all remember February 10. The Iranians planned to act immediately, but in the end it took them three months,” Strick said.
Also Monday, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said, “As for the threat from Iran, we are not limiting ourselves to Syria.”
On February 10, an Israeli attack helicopter shot down an Iranian drone that penetrated Israeli airspace and, simultaneously, Israeli fighter jets bombed the air base from which the unmanned aerial vehicle was being piloted. In the resulting clash with Syrian air defenses, an Israeli F-16 fighter jet was shot down.
Only three months later, in the pre-dawn hours of May 10, some 20 rockets were fired at Israeli military positions along the Syrian border in what Israel says was an attack by the IRGC’s Quds Force. In response, the IDF conducted airstrikes against dozens of Iranian targets in the country.