Suspicious Iranian cargo plane made 72 flights since September

Flight tracking data and analysis shows increased trade between Tehran and Damascus since Russian IL-20 was shot down in September.

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January 3, 2019 18:17
4 minute read.
Suspicious Iranian cargo plane made 72 flights since September

A Fars Air Qeshm Yakovlev Yak-42 landing at Dubai International Airport, United Arab Emirates. . (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

 
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An Iranian cargo plane that has been flagged as flying suspicious cargo to Damascus and Beirut made dozens of flights in the fall of 2017, according to flight tracking data.

An analysis of the flights shows that this plane routinely flies to Damascus and also has flown to Beirut, Qatar and Istanbul.
Western intelligence sources said in September that Fars Air Qeshm, a civilian airline in Iran, was “suspected of smuggling weapons into Lebanon,” reports indicated.
It was linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) according to a Washington Institute for Near East Policy piece in 2017.

In April of 2018, it was also flagged for suspicion of flying weapons to Syria.

We examined data of a Fars Air Qeshm 747 from September 17 to December. September 17 was chosen because that is the date of the downing of a Russian IL-20 near Latakia in northern Syria during an Israeli airstrike.

Since then, Russia has supplied Syria with S-300s and airstrikes on Syria, which the regime has blamed on Israel, have decreased.
Fox News also published a report on September 3 identifying “rare and unusual” flights by the 747 to Beirut.

A separate study published at i24 showed the Fars Air Qeshm 747 had made 63 flights over a one-year period ending on September 17.

Observer IL (@Obs_IL), a Twitter user who tracks aviation and Middle East conflicts compiled data on the flights of the Fars Air Qeshm 747 to examine.

Seventy-two flights were identified, almost half of them flying between Tehran and Damascus.

This route usually consists of a flight from Tehran in the morning with the cargo plane and the same plane returning to Tehran by nightfall.

However, the flight also conducts suspicious flights in which it takes off from Tehran and then lands in Tehran without appearing to go anywhere. It also flies other routes.

For instance, on September 19, it flew to Istanbul and then back to Iran, where it then flew to Almaty in Kazakhstan on September 20.

It made the same trip to Istanbul and Almaty in October twice. It also flew to Kabul in Afghanistan.

A particularly suspicious flight was one made to Damascus on October 16, which was followed by a flight to Beirut and then Doha, returning to Tehran on October 18.

It made a similar flight to Beirut and Doha on November 29.


The plane also made two flights from Damascus to Tehran on December 12 and 18 without ever having appeared to fly to Damascus.

This would indicate either that the flight tracking data is wrong or that the flight turned off its transponder.

To draw a comparison with the Fars Air Qeshm 747 flights, @Obs_IL made a second examinations of flights by Saha Airlines Boeing 747, a similar type of cargo plane.

It makes fewer flights but also appears to often turn off its transponder and full details of its flight path are unclear.
What is clear that it left Tehran on the 19th and 26th of December.

The flight will leave Tehran, heading west toward Damascus, and then disappear near Kermanshah and the border of Iran and Iraq.
It sometimes shows up again returning towards Tehran. This appears to be an attempt to evade detection as to where it is going and coming from. @Obs_IL points out that Saha Airlines is alleged to be owned by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“Saha airlines is a civilian cover for Iran Air Force 747 Cargo lifters,” the airline enthusiast, who asked to remain anonymous writes. The US Treasury department sanctioned Iran Aircraft Industries in January 2018 and described Saha as “Iran’s largest provider of overhaul and technical modification services for Iran’s military. And cargo aircraft.”

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy noted in April 2017 that Iran was using “pseudo-civilian airlines to resupply” Syria.
It mentioned Mahan Air, Iran Air, Syrian Air, Cham Wings and Saha Air, as well as Fars Air Qeshm as examples. It focused particularly on the 747s as examples. A Saha Air flight may have been damaged in a September airstrike in Damascus, according to reports.

THE OVERALL picture derived from analyzing flight paths of these planes is a brisk trade between Damascus and Tehran, including suspicious flights that appear to be a cover for military material moving between the countries.

These flights also appear to have increased in recent months. This particular plane from Fars Air Qeshm, for instance, made 28 round-trip flights to Damascus in just three and a half months.

This is an increase from around five trips a month to eight. Since there are some trips that appear to go unrecorded, the numbers may be higher.

The contents of the planes are unknown but Iran has been alleged to be supplying Hezbollah with precision guidance for its missiles and has been supplying the Syrian regime with weapons for its seven-year civil war.

Israel said earlier this year that it struck 200 Iranian targets in Syria in the last year and a half.

The air bridge between Tehran and Syria is a clear indication that the Syrian regime and Iran are closely linked.

A delegation from Syria recently discussed a long-term economic pact with Iran.

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