Missiles and a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Baharestan Square in Tehran, Iran.
(photo credit: NAZANIN TABATABAEE YAZDI/ TIMA VIA REUTERS)
Iran is building a new military facility in Syria, the BBC has reported based on a Western intelligence source.
Located at Al-Kiswah, south of Damascus, the facility is one of many alleged Iranian bases in Syria and illustrates how Iran is establishing a permanent presence in the country.
Israel has repeatedly warned
against Iran’s plans to put down roots close to its northern border.
“We will not allow it [Syria] to be used as a forward operating base of a Shi’a axis,” Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s office said on Saturday after Israel shot down a drone near the Golan Heights.
The new facility is located near the M5 highway leading south from Damascus toward Jordan. Around 30 km. south of the center of Damascus and 50 km. from Quneitra next to the border with Israel, the facility is part of a group of military sites that honeycomb fields northwest of Al-Kiswah.
According to the BBC report, “in recent months, additional buildings have been added to the site.”
The Western intelligence source told the BBC, “ambitions for such a long-term presence in Syria would not be illogical for Iran.”
According to satellite photos of the site from May and October 2017 published by the BBC, there are three new structures and other renovated buildings.
The report builds on earlier reports of Iranian facilities in Syria.
For more than six years, Syria has been in the midst of a vicious civil war between the Iranian-backed regime of Assad and various rebel groups. In the last two years, the regime has gained the upper hand with Russian support and pushed the rebels back to several cantons that are now regulated by cease-fire and de-escalation agreements.
Islamic State has been defeated in eastern Syria, and the regime is on the verge of taking the key border crossing with Iraq at Al-Bukamal.
In August, the website ImageSat International revealed photos of alleged Iranian-built missile factories
in the Wadi Jahannam valley. The factories are located east of Banias in northwest Syria.
“According to high-resolution images of the Eros-B satellite, the findings show that Syria is building missile factories with great similarity to missile factories in Iran,” according to Image- Sat International.
In September, the BBC reported that “Israeli jets hit Syria’s Masyaf chemical site.” The site, west of Hama, was allegedly a facility of the Scientific Studies and Research Center and site of surface-to-surface missile storage.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, that site also has connections to rocket storage used by Iran and Hezbollah.
The SSRC has been accused of involvement in Syria’s chemical weapons program and, in April, the US Treasury Department sanctioned 271 SSRC staff “in response to Sarin [gas] attack on Khan Shaykhoun.”
Other sources have alleged a wide web of Iranian bases and facilities in Syria.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran published a map in 2016 showing 12 bases from the north to south of the country, including in Aleppo, at Shayrat Air Base, on the road to Palmyra, at al-Dumayr Air Base, at Damascus International Airport, south of Yarmuk and near Izra near Daraa.
Basing itself on this report and others, the Daily Mail in the UK published an extensive report on Iran’s role in Syria, including allegations it has a “secret headquarters nicknamed the glasshouse” at Damascus International Airport.” It also shows Iranian presence at the sites of Shi’a religious shrines, including the Sayyida Zeinab Mosque south of Damascus.
Israel has repeatedly warned of Tehran’s encroachment in Syria. In August, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that Israel would not accept the situation: “Iran is busy turning Syria into a base of military entrenchment, and it wants to use Syria and Lebanon as war fronts against its declared goal to eradicate Israel.”
In September, a report on Channel 2 said Israel had sought to tell the Russians that it did not want the Iranians operating within 60 km. of the Golan border.
The base at Al-Kiswah would be just within that buffer zone.