TEHRAN, Iran – Iran is supplying weapons to "liberation armies" in the Middle East, a top Revolutionary Guards commander said, offering the first official confirmation the country provides weapons to armed groups in the region.
Gen. Hossein Hamedani, deputy commander of a volunteer militia that is part of the elite Revolutionary Guards, did not provide specific details in the report on the state-run Borna news. The U.S. military has accused Iran of arming Shiite militias in Iraq, and Iran is widely believed to provide weapons to Lebanon's militant Shiite Hezbollah group.
"Not only are our armed forces self-sufficient, liberation armies of the region get part of their weapons from us," Hamedani said, according to the report on Borna's Web site late Sunday.
In the past, Iran — a majority Shiite country — has denied arming Hezbollah, saying it only provided political and financial support. The Iranian government has also denied providing weapons or financial support to Shiite militants fighting U.S. forces in Iraq.
But the U.S. military has said it has evidence that elements of the Mahdi army, an Iraqi militia loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, have been armed by Iran.
Hamedani also said Iran has no shortage of advanced missile systems.
"Our chemical engineers have upgraded Iran's missile capability," he was quoted as saying.
Hamedani didn't elaborate, but Iranian officials have said they successfully tested a solid fuel motor for the medium-range Shahab-3 ballistic missile, a technological breakthrough for Iran.
Experts say solid fuel increases the accuracy of missiles in reaching targets. But many in the West have expressed doubt about Iran's professed military accomplishments.
Iran launched an arms development program during its 1980-88 war with Iraq to compensate for a U.S. weapons embargo. Since 1992, Iran has produced its own tanks, armored personnel carriers, missiles and a fighter plane.