August 7, 2020
Large Iranian planes, including 747s, have been flying into Beirut in the wake of the massive explosion that killed hundreds and wounded thousands. They appear to be joining an international airlift that has brought medical and search-and-rescue support for Lebanon.
However, Iran’s media, usually quick to propagandize any Iranian accomplishment, has been silent on what the planes brought. This adds to a mystery of why so many large Iranian planes suddenly arrived in Beirut and leads to questions about whether they may be using the crisis as a cover.
Iran is a key ally of Hezbollah. It usually traffics weapons to the terrorist group via Damascus. Iran has sought to provide precision-guided munitions and other deadly ordnance to Hezbollah over the years. In the wake of the massive explosion, Iran’s leaders expressed solidarity with Lebanon. But they did not indicate an airlift was underway to provide medical aid and to send search-and-rescue teams.
On August 6, an Iranian 747 with the serial number 21486 and operated by Saha Airlines (CPN-7962/EP-SHB) appeared to head into Beirut, although it had no destination or point of origin marked for open-source flight-tracking applications. It was an Iran Cargo 747 that is usually on a “Damascus express” route, according to journalist Avi Scharf, who often tracks flights in the region.
Another flight named QFZ9964 (Registration EP-FAB) flying a Boeing 747 appeared to land on August 5. This was a Fars Air Qeshm flight that normally would have gone to Damascus. It landed in the evening. Another flight operated from Iran by Caspian Airlines (CPN7960) also flew toward Beirut on August 5. Its registration was given as EP-SHH. It appeared to arrive in the afternoon.
✈ Fars Air Qeshm, Boeing 747 281F (EP-FAB, 731822) as flight QFZ9964 en route to #Beirut Int’l Airport pic.twitter.com/TnD6kkv5aq
— INTELSky (@Intel_Sky) August 5, 2020
The Iranian flights to Beirut may in part be linked to flying Iranians home from Beirut who were injured or affected by the blast. The overall details were not clear in Iranian media.
Only one photographer seemed to be on hand initially to capture a few images of humanitarian-aid crates being unloaded from one aircraft, and Iran waited a day and a half to announce the deliveries. The number of crates seemed tiny compared with the size of the massive cargo planes. There was a hint online about this effort.
The Iranian flights are mysterious because some of them have been involved in allegedly illicit trafficking of munitions or other items to Syria and other countries. For instance, the EP-SHB flight, the Saha Airlines 747, allegedly was damaged in a September 15, 2018, airstrike in Damascus, according to online social-media air sleuth @Gerjon.
On Sept. 15th, 2018, the IAF bombed #Damascus Airport. Rumours: an aircraft got damaged. Now, about 2 months later, Iranian Air Force 747-200F EP-SHB (5-8113) still hasn’t flown since that day. It likely got damaged during the attack, and may be awaiting repairs. #avgeek #Israel pic.twitter.com/YoNSnKrAsy
— Gerjon | חריון (@Gerjon_) November 9, 2018
The US has in the past sanctioned Saha Airlines, accusing it of being a subsidiary of the Iranian IRGC. It has also sanctioned Qeshm Fars Air. It appears the US Treasury has also sanctioned Caspian Airlines as well. This means three sanctioned flights arrived in Beirut. A search of Fars News, Tasnim News, ISNA, IRNA and Press TV in Iran did not reveal many details about the flights.
Such a large airlift would appear to be about more than just evacuating a few citizens. These apparently are cargo flights that are used to transport things, such as munitions. They are at the center of attempts to sanction and track Iran’s activities.
The lack of details about the flights in Iranian media raises questions about them. If Iran was moving medical supplies, as Iran’s leaders have said they would like to provide, then why not have photos and news media on hand to document the delivery of the Iranian aid? Other countries have showcased their support.
Iranian media has included statements about how Iran views the Lebanese people as brothers, but without details about actual aid. With three large flights capable of flying massive amounts of aid in, and no media coverage, it would appear something else was happening in the last 48 hours.
Would Iran use the cover of a major disaster – and that adversaries who watch Iran’s illicit transfers of weapons are less likely to do anything while Beirut is in the midst of it – to fly in munitions or other nefarious items? Or could it be moving gold and other items out of the country?
Neither question is clear. But what is known is that three planes, none of them with a clear Beirut destination, seem to have landed in Beirut in the two days after the massive explosion. This is not part of their usual manifest, and if Iran was just evacuating some people, it could use one airline to do it and make several trips. If it was moving medical supplies, it would likely have a team from its media networks on the flight.
In July, Iran said the US intercepted one of its flights over Syria. In the past, Iranian flights have delivered weapons to Hezbollah via Syria, and the weapons have been struck soon after leaving various airports in Syria. Iran even delivered an air-defense system in April 2018 allegedly to T-4 base in Syria. It was also hit by an airstrike.
The Jerusalem Post