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Tuesday 20th March 2018

Beirut Airport under Scrutiny over ‘Hezbollah’ Precision Devices Shipment

Counterterrorism & Security

Mazen Radwan

Sun, 21 Oct 2018 10:16 GMT

Suspicions over Iran using Lebanon’s only civilian airport for weapon shipments sent to its proxy militia Hezbollah resurfaced with Sky News releasing a report on October 19th, the third of its kind in less than three months. Iran has been supplying Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group with components required to turn its rockets into precision-guided missiles, other US media reported.

Despite the second wave of US-imposed sanctions soon to hit Iran, expected to cripple the country’s faltering economy, Hezbollah hasn’t slowed down its Tehran funded arms-trafficking activity.

A Lebanese official, speaking under conditions of anonymity, revealed to 7D News that serious fears were mounting over Iran’s exploiting of the national airport to transfer “high precision” weapons in order to dodge the systematic Israeli targeting of arms convoy sent by land to Lebanon via Syria. Western intelligence believes that Iran has doubled its weapons shipments to Hezbollah to boost its weapons armoury.

As reported in 7D News on October 20th, flight data suggested a delivery was made on October 16th by a cargo plane which left Tehran for Syria, Lebanon then Qatar. On October 17th the plane reportedly took off from Beirut for Doha before returning to Tehran. Back in August, two similar reports were made to the Lebanese government, which in turn denied any allegations and claimed the flights were transporting livestock cattle to Doha.

As reported by 7D News, Fox News said that the plane carried GPS devices and other components needed to build precision weapons at Hezbollah factories in Lebanon. The news channel tracked flight number QFZ-9950, which departed Tehran International Airport on October 16th at 9:33 a.m. before flying to an unknown destination, according to flight data. Later that same day, the Boeing 747 jet reportedly landed in Damascus before embarking on its final leg to Beirut.

During summer 2018, Fox News reported on two other planes belonging to Iran’s Fars Air Qeshm, a cargo airline, flying from Tehran to Beirut. The first was a July 9th flight that stopped in Damascus and passed over northern Lebanon, which, intelligence sources told Fox News, carried components for producing precision weapons. The second was an August 2nd flight that took a “slightly irregular route” north of Syria.

Lebanese authorities denied that any of the reported flights were smuggling weapons to Hezbollah. The Lebanese Directorate General of Civil Aviation also issued a statement confirming that Fars Air Qeshm had already informed its offices of the two summer flights, saying that both flights had landed empty in Beirut. Each of the July 9th and August 2nd flights landed at Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport empty of any load, before taking off the next day (July 10th and August 3rd respectively) loaded with livestock, an official statement said.

Reports focusing on increasing activity taking place at the Rafic Hariri International Airport mark “a development in corresponding plans set to address the danger posed by the landing strip of being used for military purposes,” Director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs (LISA) in Lebanon Sami Nader told 7D News. “We must give emphasis to escalations in place, matters evolving from possessing rockets to getting hold of advanced weaponry,” he said. “The Lebanese government needs to take immediate action because what is happening is a violation of Resolution 1701 in terms of not using civilian airports to transfer weapons and military equipment,” he added.

In his recent remarks to the United Nations Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that security agencies’ attention to the Lebanese airport has doubled. His remarks gave an implicit warning to Lebanese authorities to tighten security at the airport.

Lebanese analyst Ali Shihab told 7D News that Netanyahu’s remarks are “part of a campaign meant to push the Lebanese government towards raising the alarm on security measures at the airport in the light of the formation of the new Lebanese government.” Stressing that Hezbollah’s history of arms smuggling favours the Syria-Lebanon border crossings as a primary route for trafficking, Shihab said that the group using the capital’s airport would create a new precedent. Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, confirmed that Hezbollah has upgraded its arsenal to include guided missiles as a countermeasure to Israel’s systematic targeting of its arms shipments travelling through Syria, without, however, saying how they were transported.

Middle East