May 12, 2017 | Quoted by Ed Blanche - The Arab Weekly
Iranian airlines under U.S. scrutiny for Syria arms flights
U.S. officials are eyeing a crackdown on Iranian airlines that allegedly supply arms and equipment to Tehran's allies. The main focus of such a measure would be the air bridge between Iran and Syria that funnels weapons and military equipment to President Bashar al-Assad's military and its Iranian allies, such as Lebanon's Hezbollah, Shia militias in Iraq and Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Hezbollah and the Shia militias have been instrumental in keeping Assad, a long-time Iranian ally, in power almost from the moment the Syrian war began in March 2011. Without these airlifts, most of them through Iraqi air space or overland through Turkey and Iraq, Assad's armed forces and the militias would have had a much harder time surviving.
The missile strikes “helped restore America's credibility in the region after years of retreat,” observed Emanuele Ottolenghi, an Iran expert with the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
“But if the president wants to really hurt Assad, he should push back against Iran, the strongman's chief protector,” Ottolenghi said in an April article for The Hill, a Washington publication. “Disrupting Iran's airlifts to Syria by re-sanctioning its civil aviation sector would be a good place to start.”
Iran's badly debilitated aviation sector was included in U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran over its contentious nuclear program. Many of the aviation restrictions were lifted under the July 2015 nuclear agreement between the Islamic Republic and U.S.-led global powers with the proviso that airline services be restricted to “commercial passenger aviation.”
But Ottolenghi and other Western analysts insist the Tehran regime and particularly its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps have not only continued to covertly airlift troops and weapons to Syria but intensified these operations in recent months.
By Western count there are at least five Iranian and two Syrian airlines involved in “regular military airlifts to Syria,” Ottolenghi noted.
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