Iranian arms smuggling to Hezbollah may be shifting course and could potentially create a crisis in Lebanon. Recent reports have indicated there is a focus on Iranian arms shipments to Beirut, or potential ones.
Iran has trafficked weapons to Hezbollah for decades, improving its missile and drone programs. This has been a source of tension between Israel and the terrorist group.
Jerusalem has acted to prevent Iranian entrenchment in Syria over the last decade during the Syrian civil war. This is called the "war between the wars campaign." However, Lebanon is generally seen as separate from Iran's use of Syria as a conduit, meaning that once weapons enter Lebanon, they have sort of reached a get-out-of-jail-free space.
On Saturday December 10, Asharq al-Awsat, a London-based Arab newspaper, said in a report widely quoted in the region that "Israel raised threats on Saturday of plans to bomb the Beirut airport if the terminal gets used as an Iranian weapons smuggling route, in a situation similar to what it did in Syria."
The report said that "Israeli political sources in Tel Aviv said that Israel was aware of a report broadcast by the 'Al-Arabiya Channel' about Iran's plans to use a new smuggling corridor for its weapons through Beirut after the failure of the Damascus corridor. The sources said that Israel is investigating Tehran's attempt to smuggle weapons through civilian flights to Beirut Airport."
Lebanese Hezbollah terror leader Hassan Nasrallah is focused on shifting the Iranian arms shipments that usually go across Syria, according to the report. Iran uses Iraq and Syria as a corridor for weapons trafficking and basing of weapons. It has provided drones to militias in these countries and based drones at places like the T-4 base in Syria. It even flew a drone from T-4 into Israeli airspace in 2018, which Israel shot down.
In 2021, Iran launched a drone from Iraq at Israel during the May hostilities between Israel and Hamas. The Islamic Republic has now begun launching drones directly from Iran to threaten the Jewish state. Tehran also used a drone from Chabahar to strike a commercial ship in mid-November, which it apparently believed was Israeli-owned.
THE OVERALL pattern is clear. Iran backs Hezbollah, Hezbollah intervened in the Syrian civil war in 2012 to support the Syrian regime, and Iran backs the Syrian regime. It also backs militias and key political leaders and parties in Iraq.
Tehran moves ballistic missiles and drones to Iraq and also to Syria and Lebanon. It has also helped Hezbollah with its precision-guided munitions industry. This is a major threat to Israel because such munitions can target strategic infrastructure in mass attacks.
In July, Hezbollah sent drones to target a gas rig off the coast of Israel. This was a major warning that Hezbollah wanted to strike at economic interests off the coast.
In October, on the eve of Israel's elections, Jerusalem and Beirut agreed to a maritime demarcation deal that gave in to most of Lebanon's demands. Hezbollah and Iran have characterized the deal as a win for the terrorist group, Hezbollah now believes it can dictate to Israel.
The deal may also bring in Qatari investment, enabling Qatar to play a role in southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah is based, and also in Gaza where Doha has sent funds over the last few years.
Seth Frantzman is a Ginsburg-Milstein Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and senior Middle East correspondent at the Jerusalem Post.