US intelligence is monitoring shipments of weapons systems from Iran into Syria that might be used by Bashar Assad or Iranian forces, CNN reported on Wednesday.According to the report, the United States and Israel fear the cargo could contain arms that may eventually be directed against Israel. The flights were tracked in the days following the US’s April 14 strike on Syrian regime targets.According to the CNN report, at least two flights by Syrian Air Force IL-76 cargo jets, as well as one Iranian cargo jet, “caught US attention.”Weapons shipments from Iran to Syria are not uncommon. The US Treasury Department has already blacklisted Iran Air, Mayan Air and Yas Air for supporting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).In 2013, Reuters reported that Iran had been smuggling weapons into Syria through Turkish airspace to Beirut, and from there to Syria by truck. Once there, the arms would be distributed to government troops and pro-regime militias such as Hezbollah.A Western intelligence report seen by Reuters in 2013 states that the equipment transferred from Iran to Syria “included light arms and advanced strategic weapons.” “The more sophisticated gear includes parts for various hardware such as unmanned aerial vehicles, shore-to-sea missiles and surface- to-surface ballistic missiles.”According to the report, there were about five tons of arms on each flight, which happened on a “near-weekly basis.”Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced concerns over the growing Iranian presence on its borders and the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah from Tehran to Lebanon via Syria, stressing that both are redlines for the Jewish state.On Tuesday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman flew to Washington to meet with US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Adviser John Bolton, as well as with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.Discussions will focus on the close security coordination between Israeli and American defense establishments against negative developments resulting from Iranian expansion in the Middle East, with an emphasis on Syria and additional mutual security concerns.Liberman’s visit came a day after Gen. Joseph L. Votel, head of US Central Command, arrived in Israel for an official visit, meeting with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and with Israeli National Security Council members as well as senior IDF officials to discuss several regional issues, including Iran and Syria.According to an IDF statement given to The Jerusalem Post, Votel is in Israel “in order to strengthen the connection between the armies and discuss security issues in the region.”“This is the first time that CENTCOM commander has visited Israel,” the statement added. Last week, aerial photos of Iranian bases in Syria were released, showing that Tehran has increased its scope of the military relationship with the Assad regime under the auspices of the IRGC’s air force commander, Brig.-Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh.The source stated that both civilian and cargo airlines Simorgh and Pouya Air are used by the IRGC as a front for military transport flights bringing in soldiers and weaponry to bolster Iran’s military presence.According to the pictures, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps has established several bases in Syria, including one military base in the Deir al-Zor province in eastern Syria seen with Ilyushin planes transporting weapons from Iran to Syria.The aerial intelligence photos showed five other air bases with IRGC presence: T4, Aleppo, Deir al-Zor, Damascus International Airport and an additional airfield south of the capital.The aerial intelligence photos supposedly illustrate how Tehran remains capable of flying in surface- to-surface missiles as well as unmanned aerial vehicles to the war-torn country under the guise of humanitarian aid.
The photos were released as tensions between Israel and Iran have increased following an alleged Israeli strike on Syria’s T4 Air Base. According to The Wall Street Journal, the strike targeted an advanced Iranian air-defense system recently installed at the base.Jpost.com staff contributed to this report.
14 killed in alleged Israeli airstrike on Syrian airbase, April 10, 2018 (Reuters)