By Con Coughlin
12 Aug 2011
Iran has agreed to fund a new multi-million-dollar military base on the Syrian coast to make it easier to ship weapons and other military hardware between the two countries, according to Western intelligence reports.
Under the terms of the deal, which was concluded after a high-level Syrian delegation visited Tehran, Iran is to assist with the development of a new military compound at Latakia airport which will be completed by the end of next year. The aim of the agreement is to open a supply route that will enable Iran to transfer military hardware directly to Syria.
Western security officials say the deal was agreed following a visit to Tehran in June by Muhammad Nasif Kheirbek, Syria’s deputy vice-president for security affairs and an ally of President Bashar al-Assad.
Iran and Syria have enjoyed a close strategic alliance for decades, founded on their mutual antipathy towards the West. In return for Iranian military support, Syria has supported Tehran’s attempts to develop the Islamic fundamentalist Hizbollah militia into a major political force in neighboring Lebanon.
In recent months, Iran has been deeply alarmed at the nationwide protests in Syria against the Assad regime. Western diplomats claim that Iran has been sending riot control equipment, as well as intelligence monitoring techniques and oil, to Damascus to help Mr Assad regain control over his country.
But Iranian efforts to provide clandestine support have suffered several setbacks after Turkish officials intercepted a number of arms shipments destined for Syria.
Last week, Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, confirmed that Turkey had seized a truck full of weapons traveling from Iran to Syria. The seizure was made on April 30 by Turkish officials at the border city of Kilis but was only made public this month after details of the haul were published in the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung.
Turkey seized the cargo of an Iranian plane bound for Syria in March because the shipment violated UN sanctions. The Turkish media reported that an Iranian Yas Air freight plane, which was bound for the Syrian city of Aleppo, was allowed to pass through Turkish airspace only on condition that it made a “technical stop” at Diyarbakir airport in south-east Turkey. On March 21, Turkish officials found that equipment listed as “auto spare parts” on the plane’s documents were a consignment of weapons, including assault rifles, machine guns and mortars.
The arms shipments are a clear breach of sanctions imposed against Iran by the UN Security Council over Tehran’s controversial nuclear program, which expressly forbids arms exports.
“The direct route is being set up to make it easier to pass advanced Iranian weapons and equipment to Syria,” said a senior Western security official.
The Latakia deal was negotiated by Mr Kheirbek, who has been identified as one of the most powerful figures within Syria’s security establishment. Mr Kheirbek, whose son also holds a senior post in Syria’s internal security, is now the subject of US sanctions over his liaison role with Hizbollah in southern Lebanon. During his visit to Tehran, he met Ghasem Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
Under the terms of the agreement, Iran plans to fly hundreds of tons of weapons to Latakia on freight planes which have a capacity of up to 40 tons each.
Teams of Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers are to be stationed at Latakia on a permanent basis, where they will co-ordinate the arms shipments with officials from Syria’s Mukhabarat intelligence service.
A similar joint command center was set up at Damascus international airport earlier this year, but Latakia is regarded as a more suitable destination as it is not subjected to the same level of scrutiny as Damascus. For this reason Iran has agreed to provide $23 million to build a new complex at Latakia airport to handle the arms shipments, which are likely to include machine-guns, rockets and medium-range missiles.
• President Assad’s Ramadan offensive against his own people appeared to have failed yesterday after anti-regime demonstrations erupted across Syria.
At least 10 people were killed in various parts of the country as the security forces responded with the violence that has become familiar since the uprising began five months ago.
Source: The Daily Telegraph.