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Tracking Iran’s weapons route into the West Bank



PALESTINIAN GUNMEN in Jenin last month. Are the weapons coming from Iran?(photo credit: RANEEN SAWAFTA/REUTERS)
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The route is intended to flood the West Bank with weaponry, and by so doing, to eventually make this area a third front in the ongoing long war against Israel.

Iran-supported Islamist militias are currently engaged in war against Israel on two fronts. The main focus of combat remains, of course, the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

A “support front,” as is the preferred term, has been maintained by Lebanese Hezbollah since October 8 in the Israel-Lebanon border area.

Iran seeks as a strategic objective to surround Israel with a crescent of active fronts maintained by Iran and supported by Islamist client militias. As part of this, the regime is seeking to find a way to add an eastern component to this crescent – through Jordan to the West Bank.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its client militias have freedom of action, of course, in Iraq, where they are deeply embedded in government and state.

IDF soldiers operating near Kalkilya in the West Bank, May 5, 2024. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON’S UNIT)

But further west, two elements stand as barriers in the way of the Iranian desire to begin an armed campaign against Israel in the West Bank and from there into central Israel. These are the US-supported Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Israeli security presence in the West Bank.

Tehran is actively engaged in developing a variety of “solutions” to this problem.

The Iranians are not without significant achievements in this area. Most importantly, Tehran has succeeded in establishing and maintaining an arms route in which military materiel, brought from Iran into Lebanon, is then transported across the Syrian-Lebanese border, via Jordan, into the West Bank.

The maintenance of this route is of strategic importance to Iran. It is intended, over time, to flood the West Bank with weaponry, and by so doing, to eventually make this area a third front in the ongoing long war against Israel.

How do Iranian arms enter the West Bank?

THE FOLLOWING details one of the channels of Iranian arms to the West Bank. There may well be others.

The weapons pipeline from Lebanon and Syria to the West Bank began in 2005. Syrian Brig.-Gen. Mohammed Suleiman, assassinated by Israel in 2008, was responsible for facilitating the arrival of weapons to Damascus and the Syrian coast, and then managing their conveyance to Lebanon and Jordan.

Lebanese Hezbollah was also involved in this process. In this period, two brothers, Sami and Alaa al-Bashashbeh from Ramtha in Jordan, were responsible for the handling of weapons from their entry into Jordan until their transfer into the West Bank.

The Bashashbehs cooperated with smuggling networks on the Syrian side, and with Lebanese Hezbollah. Their interest, and that of the other smuggling families, was in money, not ideological commitment. The transfer at that time was in small arms – rifles, pistols, and ammunition.

This network broke down with the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, and the loss by the Syrian regime and its allies of large parts of the border to Sunni Arab insurgent groups. With the reconquest by the Assad regime and its allies of the southern border area in 2018, the process began again, on a larger scale, once again managed by Hezbollah, under Iranian supervision, in cooperation with elements of the Syrian regime and local smuggling families. These activities take place within the framework of Hezbollah’s external security office, headed by senior movement official Wafiq Safa.

Now the arms smuggling process begins in Lebanon. Weapons are transported across the border to a Hezbollah external security headquarters in Qusayr, Syria.

The weapons are taken from there to the Homs area, where they are stored at a farm belonging to Hussein Rahma. The farm has been converted by Hezbollah into a site for the storage of arms.

From there, the weapons are taken to a site at the Sayeda Zeinab area south of Damascus. There, a senior Hezbollah official named Zain al-Abidin is responsible for storing them and managing their transfer to southern Syria and Suwayda. Under his supervision, the arms are taken to remote areas in the Suwayda province on the Syrian-Jordanian border. They are then transported into Jordan, and then into the West Bank.

While light weapons are still being transported along this route, in the post-2018 period and the years prior to the current war, the focus shifted. The weaponry now trafficked included and includes C4, TNT, mines, anti-tank mines, RPG launchers, and missiles of various types, including anti-armor and anti-personnel missiles.

ON THE Jordanian side, two families centrally involved in the transfer of weapons within Jordan and into the West Bank are the al-Saeed and al-Ramthan families. Muhammad al-Ramthan, the main member of this family involved in weapons transfer, is the brother of Mari al-Ramthan, who was killed in an airstrike by the Jordanian authorities in May 2023 because of his involvement in smuggling across the border.

At the time, regional media reports called Mari al-Ramthan the “Escobar” of southern Syria because of the smuggling of Captagon along the routes he maintained. Few media outlets at the time noted that the same lines were being used to transport weaponry. The 4th Armored Division, commanded by Maher al-Assad, is involved in this process.

Hezbollah smuggling

Hezbollah also relies on the cooperation of local elements and armed groups to facilitate the smuggling. In this context, Jihad and Mashafi al-Saeed of Sha’ab village play a central role.

A medical facility maintained in Sha’ab village by Jihad al-Saeed has been used by Hezbollah for the storing of arms on the Syrian side of the border. Regarding the final stage of the network, namely those individuals on the Jordanian side responsible for bringing the weapons into the West Bank, several names can be identified.

Four individuals involved in the process of smuggling in this area are Abu Amar al-Khalidi, Abu Khaled al-Sarhan, Saqr al-Fadous, and Muhammad al-Duaij. All are known arms smugglers.

So far, this has been the route from Lebanon via Syria and Jordan to the West Bank. What happens when the weaponry arrives in this area? A recent report by veteran Israeli Middle East analyst Ehud Ya’ari on this subject suggests that Iran has abandoned efforts to create a unified, hierarchical military command structure in the West Bank.
Such a structure would be too vulnerable to penetration by Israel’s security services because of their tight hold there.

Instead, the weaponry and materiel are made available to any ad hoc armed group that forms itself on a local basis in the West Bank is willing to carry out attacks on Israel.

Formations such as the now defunct Lions’ Den of Nablus and the Jenin Battalion of that city offer examples of such loosely assembled Ktaeb, or battalions. Ya’ari refers to this approach as the “Kitaba” strategy of Iran.

In his report, produced for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, he indicates that there are currently 1,000 members in such loosely organized formations.

He also notes that IRGC Quds Force Units 840 and 3900 have established a joint “operations room” for managing this process with Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

And the final destination of the weaponry? On Monday, 22-year-old Sgt. Yehuda Geto of Pardess Hanna and the IDF’s Commando Brigade was killed in an IED explosion in the Nur-a-Shams refugee camp near Tulkarm on the West Bank.

A week earlier, Capt. Alon Sacgiu of the Kfir Brigade died in an IED explosion in Jenin, in which 16 other IDF soldiers were wounded. That’s how it’s meant to end, from Iran’s point of view.

The Iranian arms route from Lebanon, through Syria and Jordan to the West Bank, represents the main flagrant subversion of Jordanian sovereignty so far achieved by the Tehran regime.

It is also a clear, present, and growing danger for Israel.

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