NYT: Iran has flooded West Bank with arms for 2 years, aims to make it next flashpoint
Israel at warIRGC general killed in recent airstrike ran covert ops in area

NYT: Iran has flooded West Bank with arms for 2 years, aims to make it next flashpoint

Report details smuggling routes and complex network of terror groups, criminal gangs and Bedouin used by Tehran to ‘inundate’ area with weapons, ‘foment unrest’ against Israel

Illustrative: weapons seized by security forces near Neve Ur in northern Israel, after an alleged gun-smuggling over the border with Jordan on July 8, 2022. (Israel Police)
Illustrative: weapons seized by security forces near Neve Ur in northern Israel, after an alleged gun-smuggling over the border with Jordan on July 8, 2022. (Israel Police)

Iran has for some two years inundated the West Bank with arms, employing a covert, multinational network of intelligence operatives, terror groups and criminal gangs as part of its multi-pronged strategy against Israel, The New York Times reported on Tuesday

According to the report, citing three unnamed officials each from Iran, Israel and the United States, much of the contraband travels along one of two routes that pass through Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. The operation hinges on Bedouins who smuggle the weapons from Jordan across the border into the West Bank, Iranian officials were cited as saying.

The officials told the Times that Iran had not singled out a particular terror group operating in the West Bank to supply with arms, but was instead trying to “broadly inundate” the territory with weapons in an effort to “foment unrest” against Israel.

The clandestine smuggling operation, said the report, has heightened tensions that Iran, which also arms Gaza’s Hamas rulers, will instigate violence in the West Bank, as the Islamic Republic’s proxies in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen continue to carry out attacks on Israel in support of the Palestinians.

Tensions came to a head after April 1, when an alleged Israeli airstrike on Iran’s embassy in Damascus killed seven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members.

Among them was IRGC Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi, 65, commander of Iran’s covert operations in Syria and Lebanon, via which some of the weapons were smuggled into the West Bank, Israeli, Iranian and US officials told the Times. The IRGC is a US-designated terrorist organization.

The Times also cited the US and Iranian officials, as well as two Israeli officials, as saying that a key part of the smuggling route was the target of a March 26 Israeli airstrike on eastern Syria that was said to have killed over 15 people.

According to the report, most of the weapons smuggled were small arms such as handguns and assault rifles, though it was unclear how many arms overall Iran had brought to the West Bank. Israeli officials said that the contraband included some advanced weapons, including antitank missiles and rocket-propelled grenades.

The Shin Bet on March 25 also revealed that it had foiled an Iranian plot to smuggle advanced weapons into the West Bank, naming a senior Fatah official living in Lebanon as party to the plan.

In a statement to the Times, the Shin Bet said it “takes very seriously involvement in activities directed by Iran and its affiliates and will continue to carry out active measures at all times to monitor and thwart any activity that endangers the security of the state of Israel.”

Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Amir Saeid Iravani, did not comment on the smuggling operation, but told the Times that Iran thinks “the sole effective avenue for resisting the occupation by the Zionist regime is through armed resistance.”

“Palestinian resistance forces possess the capability to manufacture and procure the necessary armaments for their cause,” added the ambassador.

Two of the US officials said that some of the weapons go from Syria into Lebanon, where criminal gangs pick them up at the Israeli border and move them to the West Bank. This, an analyst said, is the more difficult route, because the Lebanese frontier is heavily patrolled by both United Nations peacekeepers and the Israeli Defense Forces.

Another route on which the weapons travel, according to the Times, goes from Syria through Jordan, which shares a “porous” border of roughly 480 kilometers (300 miles) with Israel.

The military censor in August revealed that Israeli security forces had previously thwarted an attempt to smuggle Iranian-made explosives into Israel through the Jordanian border in the Jordan Valley, just south of the Sea of Galilee.

In April, Israel arrested a Jordanian lawmaker, Imad al-Adwan, who was caught at the Allenby Bridge border crossing with a dozen assault rifles and 200 handguns in tow. It was unclear what the weapons’ source was.

The previous August, after busting a gun-smuggling network along the Jordanian border, the IDF said it had seen a “significant rise” in attempts to smuggle weapons from Jordan.

A 2023 paper from the West Point military academy’s Combating Terrorist Center put the rise at 23 in the last quarter of 2022, up from three in the first quarter of 2021. According to the research paper, the Jordanian border lent itself to arms smuggling because its south, along the Arava desert, is too long and densely populated to effectively patrol, whereas the border’s north, in the Jordan Valley, is too hilly to properly surveil.

“These hills cause us dead areas, because of all the small channels,” a military commander in the area told The Times of Israel’s Emanuel Fabian in a 2022 report, cited by the research paper.

“It’s impossible to control. I can’t put a soldier on each peak. We are at probably the best vantage point, and you can’t see what’s happening in each channel,” added the officer

“Nobody can get through with a car, but by foot? With ease,” he said.

National security researcher Afshon Ostovar told the Times that “the West Bank really needs to be the next frontier that Iran will penetrate and proliferate weapons into, because if they are able to do that then the West Bank will become just as big a problem, if not bigger, as Gaza.”

According to Ostovar, Iran’s focus on the West Bank is a result of the Islamic Republic’s understanding that it would be difficult to access Gaza in the foreseeable future.

One of the Iranian officials whom the New York Times interviewed told the newspaper that Bedouins and other Arab citizens of Israel who held critical roles in the operation were at increased risk of getting caught after Israel and Jordan had beefed up their security following Hamas’s October 7 onslaught on southern Israel.

Since October 7, Israel has arrested some 3,700 wanted Palestinians in the West Bank, including more than 1,600 affiliated with Hamas. According to the Palestinian Authority health ministry, more than 450 West Bank Palestinians have been killed in that time.

The military’s increased counterterrorism activity in the West Bank came on the heels of Hamas’s brutal October 7 onslaught on southern Israel, when thousands of terrorists invaded the country to kill nearly 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and take over 250 hostages of all ages. PJC

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