Iran funds new arms supply route for Syrians
Iran has agreed to fund a new multimillion 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.
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 Syrian 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 the 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 oil and intelligence-monitoring techniques, to Damascus to help Mr Assad regain control.
But Iranian efforts to provide clandestine support 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 travelling from Iran to Syria. The seizure was made on April 30 by Turkish officials at the border city of Kilis.
Turkey previously 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. (© Daily Telegraph, London)