New IRGC flights to Beirut may be carrying weapons to Hezbollah - report

The new flight joins a line by Iran's Mahan Air which has run between Tehran and Beirut for years.

 Meraj Airlines aircraft (illustrative) (photo credit: DMITRY TEREKHOV/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Meraj Airlines aircraft (illustrative)
(photo credit: DMITRY TEREKHOV/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

The IRGC-affiliated Meraj Airlines has begun flights to Beirut in recent days, raising concerns that Iran could use the flights to transfer weapons directly to Hezbollah in Lebanon instead of using Damascus.

Al-Arabiya reported on Thursday that sources had informed them that Meraj had begun flights from Tehran to Beirut and could transport sensitive weapons and equipment to Hezbollah on the flights.

The first flight run by the airline to Beirut took place on November 14 and has continued on a weekly basis, according to the report.

The Israeli Intelli Times blog identified the Meraj aircraft flying between Tehran and Beirut as EP-AJI. Flight tracking from Flightradar24 shows that the aircraft has made a number of flights to Beirut recently, turning its transponder on over Baghdad and over Syria, but keeping it off in much of Iraq and Iran.

Intelli Times noted that Mahan Air, also affiliated with the IRGC, has been operating flights to Beirut for years on an aircraft identified as IRM1152.

A Middle East Airlines flight, at Rafic Hariri International Airport, Beirut, Lebanon (credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/KURUSH PAWAR)A Middle East Airlines flight, at Rafic Hariri International Airport, Beirut, Lebanon (credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/KURUSH PAWAR)

Iran uses civilian aircraft to transport weapons, equipment and personnel

Iran has been accused of transporting weapons, equipment and personnel on civilian flights from a variety of airlines to Syria, Lebanon and beyond. In June, alleged Israeli airstrikes led to the temporary closure of Damascus International Airport for repairs. Alleged Israeli airstrikes targeted the airport in September and October as well.

In November, the Syrian Capital Voice site reported that Syria and Iran have been deploying new air defense systems, including jamming and early warning systems, around Damascus in order to prevent Israeli airstrikes in the area.

Meraj Air was sanctioned by the US in 2014 for ferrying “illicit cargo, including weapons, from Tehran to the Syrian regime since at least 2013.” The airline was targeted by US sanctions again in 2018 when two people affiliated with it and a separate airline called Dena Airways which acts on behalf of Meraj Air were designated.

Mahan Air has also been used by Iran to transport weapons, equipment and personnel throughout the region and the world. 

In June, Argentina seized an aircraft that had belonged to Mahan Air, but had since been purchased by a Venezuelan airline amid concerns that the Iranian personnel on the plane were affiliated with the IRGC.

In the past month, open-source intelligence accounts belonging to supporters of the Assad regime have noted an increase in flights of Israeli and American reconnaissance aircraft near Lebanon and Syria.