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Growing Concern Over Iran Using Syria Earthquake to Smuggle Arms Under Guise of Aid

A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows an Iranian plane on the tarmac at Damascus airport delivering rescue aid. AFP
A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows an Iranian plane on the tarmac at Damascus airport delivering rescue aid. AFP

As countries and organizations continue to send humanitarian aid following the catastrophic earthquake that hit Syria and Turkey last week, Israeli officials and American national security experts have warned that the Islamic Republic of Iran is potentially preparing to send arms shipments through Syria to Lebanon to support Revolutionary Guards in Damascus and Hezbollah terrorist fighters in Lebanon.

Following the aftermath of the earthquake, the head of the Islamic Republic's Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, Brigadier General Esmail Qaani, was spotted in the western Syrian city of Latakia to observe humanitarian aid and the losses from the earthquake victims, according to various photographs and videos circulating on social media.

Last week a 7.8 earthquake hit southeastern Turkey and northern Syria, with officials saying that this was the worst natural disaster to hit the region in a century. Reports on the ground reveal that rescue workers are pulling people trapped under rubble as nations and organizations continue to aid in the effort. Around 33,000 individuals have died since the earthquake hit the region, with the death toll increasing.

“Iran's regime has a history of using humanitarian organizations--like the Iranian Red Crescent--as cover for Quds Force officers, intelligence operatives, and weapons smuggling. This was seen in Bosnia in the 1990s, where a former IRGC commander admitted on state TV to using the Iranian Red Crescent for those purposes,” said Jason Brodsky, Policy Director at United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI).

“There is also evidence Iran's regime exploited the Iranian Red Crescent for such illicit activities during the 2006 Lebanon War. The visit of the commander of the IRGC's Quds Force Esmail Qaani to Syria in recent days was very significant. It was unusually public--which was likely an attempt to showcase that there is nothing to see here--but the Quds Force commander's presence in a meeting with Latakia's governor--which is home to sensitive port where Iran has smuggled arms before--suggests an ulterior motive may be afoot,” said Brodsky.

According to the Iranian state news channel Mehr News Agency, Qaani was in Syria in the city of Aleppo, meeting with Syrian military officials "to inspect Iran's rescue and relief operations."

According to the Twitter Account Intelli Times, the satellite television station owned and operated by the Shiite Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, broadcasted Qaani's visit to the region, showing him conversing with individuals wearing the logo of Hezbollah on their clothing.

The account also showed an image of Islamic Republic-owned trucks crossing the border in eastern Syria used for smuggling arms to Syria. While in the city of Latakia in western Syria, he met with the province's governor and Syrian military officials.

On Twitter, Brodsky pointed out that accompanying the head of the Quds Force was Mohammad Reza Zahedi, who has acted as a liaison between Hezbollah and Syria's intelligence on arms shipments.

Speaking to the Saudi Arabian newspaper Elaph, an Israeli military official said that "there is information indicating that Iran will take advantage of the tragic situation in Syria and, under the guise of humanitarian aid, will send weapons and equipment to Hezbollah." The official told the outlet that Israel is "ready to strike any equipment or weapons anywhere inside Syrian territory."

On Twitter, Roi Kais, a correspondent on Arab Affairs for the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation Kan, posted a video showing Islamic militias supported by the regime in Tehran traveling in a large convoy to "aid the victims of the earthquake in Syria."

Experts familiar with the Islamic Republic's arm shipping activities, the regime in Tehran has a history of smuggling weapons into places like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen while declaring it "humanitarian aid."

According to Brodsky, the spotting of Qeshm Fars Air flights, which is a United States-sanctioned airline for weapons smuggling, as one of the airlines of choice also raises suspicions. The Israeli government is monitoring these developments closely, and I anticipate will act to disrupt any shipments which contain arms embedded in humanitarian packages.”

Speaking to Fox News Digital about the issue, Yossi Kuperwasser, a Senior Researcher at the Israel Defense Security Forum, explained that the Islamic Republic of Iran, in the past, "used humanitarian disasters to transport weapons clandestinely and illegally and may well try to use this humanitarian disaster in Syria as a decoy for transporting additional advanced weapons systems to Syria."

According to Kuperwasser, it is most likely that Tehran would send advanced air defense batteries, "kamikaze" drones, and long-range missile parts.

"Iran continues to exploit the Syrian weakness and dependence on external assistance to promote the Iranian strategy of regional dominance and deployment of weapons near Israel," Kuperwasser said to Fox News Digital. "It should be clear to the world that Iran is a global disruptor and menace which doesn't only concern Israel or the Middle East."

Related Story: Suspected ISIS Members Escape Syrian Prison After Earthquake, Report

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