A Fars Air Qeshm Boeing 747 touched down in Beirut at 2:04 p.m. on October 16. The large white aircraft had left Tehran at 9:33 that morning but had concealed its flight details from international tracking authorities. It stayed in Beirut for almost a day before leaving for Doha on October 17. That plane is now at the center of a Fox News report alleging that it carried "GPS devices to make precision-guided weapons in Iranian factories inside Lebanon."
The report Friday night said that Western intelligence sources believe the cargo plane was carrying items for Hezbollah. These components "were bound for these Hezbollah secret sites near the Beirut airport to target Israel in the future." Fox News quoted former Military Intelligence head Amos Yadlin as saying Israel was determined to confront this kind of technology transfer.
"Israel is determined not to let it happen," he said. "This is a source of concern because if the Iranians, on the one hand, are determined to build this precision project with ballistic missiles and the Israelis are determined not to let it happen, this is a recipe for collision."
Fars Air Qeshm's Boeing 747 has been implicated before in suspicious activity. In September Fox News also reported that the same plane had departed from an air force base in Tehran on July 9 and also stopped in Damascus before continuing on to Beirut. It also landed in the afternoon. It used the flight number QFZ9960 as opposed to its October number QFZ9950. It also carried out another flight on August 2, leaving Tehran and landing in Beirut. The airline was also fingered in April as one of several being monitored by US intelligence for its role as an air bridge between Tehran and Damascus.
There has been pushback in the past against these reports. Sputnik news, which is close to Moscow's narrative, argued in September that pushing the "smuggling" story caters to "Washington and Tel Aviv with a pretext to strike Iranian advisors and Hezbollah fighters in Syria."
"Hezbollah is brazenly lying to the international community," Netanyahu said, when Lebanon denied the existence of the precision missile factories. He said Lebanon had not looked underground to reveal Hezbollah's "underground precision missile production facility."
Despite the denials, Hezbollah has already admitted it has precision missiles. On September 20 Hezbollah said, "it has been done," referring to outfitting its missiles with guidance systems. "The resistance now owns precision missile," Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said.
The exposure of the alleged smuggling route and allegations that GPSes are being put on the ballistic missiles poses a direct threat to Israel. In the past, Hezbollah's missiles have been relatively inaccurate. However, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has increased the accuracy of its own missiles in Iran. In recent months it has showcased this accuracy firing Fateh-110 missiles at Kurdish opposition groups in Iraq in September and fired its Zulfiqar and Qiam ballistic missiles at ISIS in Syria. The attack in Iraq was able to hit a room in a large building, showing the missiles were very precise.
The allegation that Iran has begun to transfer this technology to Hezbollah is a major escalation and forms part of the terrorist group's desire to expand its arsenal in the wake of the Syrian civil war winding down. Hezbollah has been devoting resources to fighting in Syria. The last years have seen reports in Syria that Israel has struck weapons convoys destined for Hezbollah. In October, Russia deployed the S-300 missile system to Syria. Now Jerusalem has been ramping up accusations about Hezbollah's weapons systems and how Hezbollah is increasing the precision of its rockets and hiding them beneath Beirut. All of this points to increased tensions between Israel and Lebanon.
Seth Frantzman is The Jerusalem Post's op-ed editor, a Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a founder of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.