Iran hid weapons among earthquake aid to target US troops, leak says

Iran and its proxies are allowing attacks on US troops in Syria through clandestine arms shipments hidden in the humanitarian aid that poured into the region after a catastrophic earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people earlier this year, according to US classified intelligence and an Israeli military official familiar with the matter.

The findings, described in a leak of US secrets broadcast on the Discord messaging platform and obtained by The Washington Post, raise serious questions about the ability of the United States and its allies to intercept Iranian-sourced weapons routinely used to target US personnel, partner military and civilians in the Middle East. The previously undisclosed, top-secret document amplifies earlier reports of alleged efforts by Iran to conceal defensive military hardware in aid shipments to Syria following the February disaster that devastated this country and neighboring Turkey.

A US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive revelations, declined to comment on the authenticity of the document, but said the activity it describes is consistent with efforts from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to “use humanitarian aid in Iraq and Syria”. as a means of channeling materials to groups affiliated with the IRGC. »

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not return a request for comment. Last month, Iranian officials told Reuters news agency that its report, detailing Tehran’s alleged use of cargo planes to smuggle air defense systems into Syria under the guise of case of an earthquake, was “not true”. Reuters attributed its reporting to nine people in Syria, Iran, Israel and the West.

US fights Iranian provocations in the Middle East

The alleged smuggling of offensive weapons from Iran to Syria includes unspecified small arms, ammunition and drones, according to the leaked US intelligence assessment. The document says these deliveries were made using convoys of vehicles from Iraq coordinated by friendly militant groups there and the Quds Force, Iran’s elite expeditionary unit specializing in combatant management. by proxy and information gathering.

The Israeli military official, who like others interviewed for this report spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information, claimed that the Al-Quds Force was involved in such activity.

Immediately after the earthquake, Iran and its affiliates moved quickly to exploit the chaos, according to the leaked intelligence document. On February 7, a day after the disaster leveled dozens of homes and other buildings, triggering desperate rescue efforts, an Iraq-based militia “reportedly orchestrated the transfer of guns, ammunition and 30 drones hidden in aid convoys to support future attacks”. on US forces in Syria,” he said. UAV is a military shorthand for unmanned aerial vehicle.

On February 13, an Al-Quds Force officer ordered an Iraqi militia to “integrate weapons into lawful earthquake relief,” the leaked US document says, noting that another Quds Force officer Al-Quds kept a list of “hundreds” of vehicles and goods that entered Syria. of Iraq after the earthquake, an apparent effort to manage where all the smuggled weapons were going.

Iraq’s anti-US militias aren’t just Iranian proxies

The leaked US assessment also implicates the “Chief of Staff of the PMC”, an apparent reference to Abu Fadak Al-Mohammedawi, a senior figure in the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces. The consortium of Shia militias, aligned in many cases with Iran, receives funding from the Iraqi government through its official body, the Popular Mobilization Committee, or PMC.

The group has denied claims that its affiliates have used humanitarian aid shipments as a means of delivering weapons. The aid packages were authorized by the Iraqi government and reached Syrians in need, said Moayad Al Saadi, a spokesman. Such allegations, he said, “will not discourage the Iraqi people from helping the Syrian brothers and standing by their side in their humanitarian ordeal, away from any political or other consideration”.

Leaked intelligence findings highlight an uncomfortable reality: Even as 2,500 US troops continue to serve in Iraq as advisers, working alongside the Iraqi military, the government in Baghdad appears unwilling to prosecute militants of the PMF which constitute a threat for the two armies.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani took office last year with support from Iran-linked groups. A spokesperson declined to provide a recorded response. A senior official in his office, however, denied the findings of the US document, calling it “false” and saying there was no pretext necessary to supply arms to groups in Syria that work with Iran.

“In reality, the borders are wide open; in fact, we are still suffering from illegals sneaking across the Syrian border,” the official said. “Which means that if these documents are correct, it is possible at any time. Why wait for an aid convoy as justification?

Israel has targeted convoys suspected of carrying weapons to Syria and Lebanon, according to leaked intelligence documents, but the risk of hitting bona fide humanitarian shipments posed challenges. It is “highly likely” that the Israelis will continue their interdiction efforts, but they require “stricter confirmation of intelligence before hitting aid shipments”, the document said.

Biden warns Iran after clash between US forces and proxy groups in Syria

In Syria, where about 900 U.S. troops are working with local forces to quell a resurgence of Islamic State, the threat from Iran-aligned groups is lingering, U.S. officials say.

In March, for example, an American contractor working at a base there was killed by what the Pentagon said was an Iranian-made drone. The attack injured another contractor there, and several U.S. service members suffered head injuries from the blast.

U.S. officials are confident the drone that killed U.S. contractor Scott Dubis was not smuggled into the country in one of the earthquake relief convoys, the U.S. defense official said , declining to provide further details.

Dubis, a longtime US military contractor from South Carolina, was killed on March 23 while working on an armored vehicle at a US base near Hasakah, a town in northeast Syria. The hangar he worked in during the attack was not as well protected as the rest of the base, a second US military official said. An Avenger air defense system was there to guard against aerial threats, the official said, and it remains unclear why and how the system failed to engage the drone.

Shortly after Dubis’ death, US fighter jets struck the Iranian-backed militias believed to be responsible for the attack, prompting a stern warning to Tehran from President Biden, who said the US would respond. forcefully to violent attacks on American personnel.

Mike Dubis, the older brother of Scott Dubis, told the Post that US officials have not provided his family with any details about the investigation. The lack of information has been disheartening, he said, as serious questions remain about how the militants were able to penetrate the defenses of a US military base.

“Looks like we’re not doing enough to prevent it,” Mike Dubis said.

Salim brought from Baghdad and Hendrix from Jerusalem. Louisa Loveluck in London contributed to this report.

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