The Iranian government has consistently smuggled weapons and explosives to proxies in Syria and Lebanon using passenger jets, German broadcaster ZDF reported Wednesday.
Citing Western security officials and information from unspecified sources, the report alleges that Iranian-based commercial airlines Iran Air and Yas Air have transported weapons to Beirut and Damascus on several occasions on aircraft designated as passenger planes.
Though the types of weapons are unknown, ZDF asserts that the weapons were ordered by Iran's Revolutionary Guard.
The ZDF report came days after the deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guard's elite Quds Force admitted lending military support to President Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria.
Speaking to Iran's semiofficial ISNA news agency, Deputy Commander Esmail Ghani said the Quds Force played a "physical and non-physical" role in Syria. This role, he claimed, mitigated the loss of life in the Syrian government's prolonged crackdown on its citizens, which Syrian authorities have consistently blamed on "terrorists" within its borders.
Coincidentally, Ghani's comments came shortly after Assad's forces massacred at least 108 people and injured 300 more in Houla in Homs province on Friday.
"If the Islamic Republic were not present in Syria, the killing of citizens would be greater," Ghani said.
His comments were removed from the ISNA website soon after they were published and no other official news outlet in Iran reported them.
Instead, other Iranian officials have blamed the death of Syrian civilians on Israel.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparsat told Iran's official news agency, IRNA, that Israel was "the root of the problems," and that "the Zionist regime's weakening position in the region" had led to "provocation."
Echoing these sentiments, former Revolutionary Guard chief and current secretary-general of Iran's Expediency Discernment Council Mohsen Rezaee criticized Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for accusing Iran and Hizballah of involvement in the Houla massacre. Though Netanyahu blamed Iran, "evidence suggests the influence of the Zionist regime in Syria," Rezaee said.
Though the United States, European Union and Syrian opposition leaders have long accused Iran of aiding Syria, Ghani's comments on Sunday mark the first time an Iranian official has publicly admitted that the Islamic Republic has a presence in Damascus.
The ZDF report is just the latest development in the history of cooperation between these two Islamic nations. In March, the US Department of the Treasury actually designated Ghani, as well as two other Revolutionary Guard officials and Yas Air, as terrorist entities for shipping weapons to Syria to support Assad's regime.