In early August, the US Justice Department said it was seeking to seize a mysterious plane that was flying around South America. It was a Venezuelan 747 cargo jet, CBS News said, but it was “previously owned by an Iranian airline that allegedly has ties to terror groups.” It had been grounded in Argentina since early June. The plane was stuck in Argentina, but some of its crew had left the country. It was already in the spotlight of various online sleuths and others.
Iranian media has now published its own account about the cargo plane. The son of the pilot has alleged that Israel, the US and Argentinian Jews are behind a plot to keep the plane and its crew grounded, Before going into the Iranian claims, it’s worth knowing what happened.
“The US request sent to Argentina followed the unsealing of a warrant in federal court in the District of Columbia that was issued last month and that argues the US-made plane should be forfeited because of violations of US export control law,” the CBS report said in August. The plane had been “transferred from Iranian airline Mahan Air - which officials have alleged provides support for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force - to Emtrasur, a subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned Consorcio Venezolano de Industrias Aeronáuticas y Servicios Aéreos, or CONVIASA. CONVIASA is under US sanctions.”
The cargo jet had arrived in Argentina on June 6 after a flight from Mexico. It had supposedly also tried to land in Uruguay. It had a crew of 14 Venezuelans and five Iranians. Iran and Venezuela are allies. Iran has sold Caracas drones in recent years and sent ships and trade via Venezuela.
The Venezuelan jet's IRGC connection
Two weeks after the reports emerged, Venezuelans protested against the grounding of the plane. This was clearly a regime-sponsored protest. Reports said at the time that one of the crew was named Gholamreza Ghasemi, “an Iranian linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a powerful Iranian military service, separate from the regular army, which operates the Quds Force and is considered a terrorist organization by the US government,” the Wilson Center said in a report.
That same report says that “the United States and Israel had reportedly provided information about the plane’s Iranian connections and about Ghasemi, who had served as chief executive officer of Fars Qeshm Air, which the United States accuses of supplying arms and sensitive equipment to Iran’s proxies in Syria and Lebanon. Turkish and Brazilian authorities also reportedly provided Argentina information on the aircraft and its Iranian connections.”
The issue of Iran’s involvement in South America, Hezbollah’s role in the tri-border area and how Iran targeted Israeli and Jewish targets in Argentina in the 1990s is still an issue of controversy. High-level politicians and others care about this, but they don't necessarily care because they oppose Iran. As such, the cargo plane has importance beyond just sanctions issues.
Iran’s Fars News interviewed the son of the pilot. The pro-IRGC news organization in Iran says that the plane was detained “with the coordination of the United States, the Zionist regime and England.” Iran is also angry at “opposition” media highlighting the plane’s role.
Fars News introduces the reader to the pilot's son Ghasemi who has explained the details of the arrest of his father and the Iranian crew in Argentina, “and in a part of the conversation, he mentioned the role of America and the Zionist regime in this incident and said: This incident was definitely planned because when the plane wants to fly, it must also have landing permits at the destination airport, transit permits from the route countries, and alternative airports. Having the mentioned licenses means that airport, navigation, communication, refueling, firefighting and radio services must be given to this plane under any circumstances,” the report says.
According to this report, the plane had permits to fly to Uruguay and had registered a flight path. “When the pilot flew to Uruguay, there was no problem until Uruguay did not allow the plane to land! The pilot was forced to land due to lack of fuel in Argentina, which is the backyard of the Zionists,” the report says.
The son of the pilot continues the narrative: He says that his father had flown with many airlines in the past and had flown to Dubai, Damascus, Paris and other cities. “It was a year ago that the Boeing 747-300 cargo plane was sold to this country [Venezuela] due to the cooperation between Iran and Venezuela. For this reason, my father went to [Venezuela] to train the pilots on behalf of the Iranian Civil Aviation Organization to the Venezuelan crew.”
Iran's expertise in old 747s
Iran has expertise in flying 747s because it has a number of them that date from the pre-Revolution era. These older planes are still flying and Iranian pilots have some unique expertise in keeping them aloft and extending their abilities. “Due to his background and experience, my father was one of the two people who could teach other people the different steps and how to work with the mentioned airplane as a master pilot.”
The son says that his father spent a year training the Venezuelans and he made various flights in South America. “He flew more than 100 times on different routes in Latin America. As a result, the presence of him and other Iranian crew in Latin America was not a new and strange event, and it is quite natural that when a country buys an airplane, it uses the master pilot of that country to transfer the technical knowledge of that airplane, it is a very common thing in the world.”
Then something went wrong. As opposition parties and others became aware of the plane, someone made a request to Uruguay. According to reports in June, Uruguay's Interior Minister Luis Alberto Heber had said his country had received a “formal warning from Paraguayan intelligence.” Iran’s Fars news asserts that Israel was responsible for the plane being diverted.
“During this work, all kinds of international and aviation laws were violated to make this happen,” the Fars News report quotes the son as saying. “My father has both the experience of flying in the war zone in the holy defense and the experience of commercial flights in different airlines. Of course, this is a natural thing, and pilots all over the world go to commercial flights after retiring from military flights. Most of the pilots in America and other countries are military at first and after retirement, they work in different airlines, that is, like the different airlines that are around our country. In fact, no one can tell the American, British and European pilots why they were engaged in military flights before commercial flights, and they easily stay in Iran and other countries,” the son said. This is apparently a way to excuse claims in media that the father is linked to the IRGC.
In fact, Iran International noted yesterday that “in an interview, the Iranian pilot of a Venezuelan cargo plane grounded in Argentina three months ago has denied any ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC)…In the interview with Al Mayadeen Espanol published Friday, Captain Gholamreza Ghasemi reiterated the claim that he is a flight instructor and had no ties to the Iranian military except for fighting in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) as a volunteer in the Basij Popular Mobilization Forces.”
According to Iranian media, the US and Israel are to blame. The report says that the seizing of the plane took place as Venezuela’s authoritarian leader Nicolas Maduro was on a trip to Iran on June 10. He was there to announce a 20-year deal with Iran. Iran International reported that visit on June 9.
Apparently, the cargo plane was indeed grounded in that 48-hour period after it had landed before it could depart, as the Venezuelan leader was preparing for his own trip. “The Zionist regime and the United States were trying to create a story to disrupt the relations between Iran and Venezuela. For this reason, this caused the crew of the said flight to be taken hostage,” Iran’s Fars News says.
The report says that the Iranians detained in Argentina have now been able to leave their hotel but they apparently fear being a target of an “incident.” The Iranian report admits that the plane was allegedly carrying military material and the pilots and crew are alleged “terrorists and intend to carry out military activities in Uruguay”; of course, the report denies this after noting it. “They let this plane reach the last point and run out of fuel so that it would have to land in Argentina when it returned. The course of events shows that all of them are planned to implement the specified scenario in Argentina,” the son says.
Iran blames "Zionist lobby" for plane seizure
Iran blames the “Zionist lobby” for what has happened. And here is the beef, the Iranian pilot’s son alleges. “The Zionists have repeatedly announced that they are conducting extensive operations to prevent the JCPOA agreement from being signed, and we know that this scenario is also a plan to create Iranphobia in Latin America and put pressure on the United States. Until the agreement is signed.” He also blames the Delegación de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas (DAIA), an organization of Argentina's Jewish community for involvement in the alleged conspiracy. But the conspiracy is even greater than just undermining a return to the Iran deal. Saudi Arabia is also involved in backing Iranian opposition media, the report says. And not only Saudi Arabia, but “BBC Persian” is also involved, the report says.
The report goes far to try to debunk media reports in South America that the plane turned its transponder off. Iranian ships are known to often switch off their AIS transponders and aircraft can do the same. “If the transponder device was turned off and the position of the aircraft was not shown on the radar, then the pilot would report his position through two-way radio communication. While this plane passed over several countries, it entered the sky of Argentina and they had it on the radar,” the son says. He says that the media simply do not understand how planes function. According to the report, the US’s FBI as well as Argentina’s Justice Ministry, Buenos Aires Customs, Interpol “and the Turkish Embassy” have been asked about the return of the plane. “For what reason?” the son asks. Indeed, why is the Turkish embassy linked to this affair?
Now, more intrigue and antisemitic insinuation is afoot. The report claims that Iran International and BBC Persian reports somehow highlighted this plane and got it in the spotlight of various countries and media. This could affect Argentina’s politics. “According to the news we have from Argentina, we know that the judiciary of this country has widespread corruption in a way that this issue is known in Latin America. On the other hand, the Argentine government is a left-wing government and is in opposition to the country's judiciary. For this reason, this is a settlement the judiciary wants to make with the government,” the son said to Fars News.
Over the weekend, Argentina's vice-president was the target of an assassination attempt. The BBC noted that “footage shows the moment Cristina Fernández de Kirchner found herself face-to-face with the loaded weapon. The former president was outside her home, surrounded by a mob of supporters who back her in her fight against corruption charges.” The report at Fars News asserts “I must point out that all this issue is under the control of the United States, the Zionist regime, the DAIA organization [which is the umbrella organization of Argentina's Jewish community], and the Jews who are present in the Argentine Parliament.”
The article then delves into several more topics that are of interest. It dismisses claims the plane was once owned by Mahan Air and used by the IRGC. “Even if there was this connection; According to the laws of Argentina, neither Mahan nor the Revolutionary Guards are sanctioned in this country.” It contrasts the role of Fars Air Qeshm with the company flying the 747 in South America and asserts that Qatar could play a role because once companies fly to Doha then they are “removed from the embargo of other Arab countries. The result was that Arab countries opposed to Qatar could not impose sanctions on this country,” the article says.
This implies Qatar is a kind of conduit for Iran to get around sanctions. The article says that the Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry is involved in the case, but says that Iran faces an uphill battle in Argentina because of its “long history with Iran in the AMIA case, which the Zionists were guilty of.” The AMIA bombing was carried out in 1994 targeting the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, murdering 85 people. Iran and its proxies were likely behind the attack. “Argentina's official institutions are under Zionist pressure,” the Fars interview notes.
The report then looks at the case of former Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the interviewee suggests that Kirchner was willing to work towards better Iran-Argentina relations. “They did something to completely remove that person [Kirchner] from the political scene. That is, this is the pressure they put on Argentina and its government so that it does not have a relationship with them.”
The article ends with a request by the son that Iran’s president intervene.