At the same time the U.S. military was also actively blocking the shipment of arms to Hezbollah, reportedly working in one case with the governments of Iraq and Turkey to turn back an Iranian plane that U.S. spies concluded contained missiles for the Lebanese group.
Eight days after Hezbollahs war with Israel began, U.S. diplomats persuaded Turkey and Iraq to deny the plane permission to cross their territory to Damascus, a transfer point for arms to Hezbollah, USA Today reported August 18.
Information on the incident was detailed by two U.S. intelligence officials who told the paper not to disclose their names because they were not authorized to discuss it.
According to these officials, on July 19, a spy satellite photographed Iranian crews loading three missile launchers and eight crates, each normally used to carry a Chinese-designed C-802 Noor missile, aboard a transport plane at Mehrabad air base near Tehran, USA Today reported. This type of missile had been fired at an Israeli warship off Lebanon several days earlier, killing four sailors.
The following day the Ilyushin IL-76 transport plane left Tehran for Damascus. However, Washington arranged to have Iraqi air-traffic controllers deny the plane permission to enter Iraqs airspace. Air controllers from Turkey said they would grant permission, but only if the plane landed to be inspected. The plane returned to Tehran. Two days later it flew humanitarian aid to Damascus after stopping for inspection in Turkey, reported USA Today.
U.S. satellites regularly photograph air bases to determine the class of weapons being shipped based on the boxes in which they are packed. According to Robert Hewson, a missile expert with Janes, a military reference service, there is an entire discipline in intelligence on the technique of identifying weapons based on their containers, USA Today reports him saying.
Other incidents of aerial harassment of Iranian planes in transit were recently disclosed. The Turkish foreign ministry on August 17 said that two other Iranian planes bound for Syria were forced to land at an airport in southeastern Turkey, where they were searched for rockets and other military equipment. None was found, according to the Dow Jones news service. These incidents occurred on July 27 and August 8, when these planes landed at Diyarbakir airport, the Turkish daily Hurriyet reported.
A deputy spokesman for the Turkish foreign ministry, Murat Ozcelik, told Hurriyet that these two planes were not the only Iranian jets that Ankara has forced to land. We inspect Iranian planes upon any suspicion that they may be carrying any weapons, he said, declining to give further details.
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