ANALYSIS: Iranian Missile Threat to Israel Increases
Repeated Israeli airstrikes fail to drive Iranian forces out of Syria, where the Revolutionary Guards remain entrenched
New reports about Iran’s presence in Syria indicate the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is currently looking for another location for its headquarters in the devastated country, another indication the Iranians have no intention to leave Syrian soil.
This happened after a series of Israeli airstrikes which repeatedly destroyed weapon storage facilities and the so-called Glass House, the headquarters of the Quds Force at Damascus International Airport.
The latest Israeli aerial attack on Iranian facilities near the airport in Damascus, which took place on Jan. 29 and followed a failed Iranian attempt to hit an IDF base at Mount Hermon with a missile, was apparently too much for the Quds Force and its commander Qassem Soleimani.
The missile strike by the Israeli air force (IAF) was conducted from Lebanese airspace and destroyed a weapon storage facility near the Glass House and the entrance to the passenger terminal at Damascus International Airport.
Soleimani has his own headquarters in a heavily guarded compound located along the Road of the People’s Palace in Mezzah, a neighborhood in western Damascus.
The same neighborhood also houses Shiite militias from Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan and the headquarters of Hezbollah in Syria and the Syrian Republican Guards.
Israeli military intelligence and the Israeli intelligence blog Intelli Times now report that the Quds Force is relocating part of its military infrastructure to the so-called T-4 air force base between Homs and Palmyra (biblical Tadmor).
The T-4 base, however, has been the target of IAF strikes as well and is considered still within reach of the Israeli air force despite the deployment of the Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missile shield which was delivered to Assad’s army at the end of last year and has now become operable according to some observers.
Intelli Times reportedly discovered the Iranian move after it tracked a Syrian Ilyushin 76 cargo plane which was on its way from Tehran to Damascus but disappeared from the radar after which the editors of the Israeli blog determined the aircraft headed to T-4.
A couple of hours later the plane continued its usual flight route to Damascus International Airport.
The Iranians initially thought they could avoid IAF airstrikes on its base at the airport of Damascus by building military facilities close to buildings in use for civilian purposes but the continuing Israeli strikes on the buildings caused tensions with the Assad regime.
President Bashar al-Assad wants foreign airlines to return to Damascus and is feverishly working to restore ties with Middle Eastern and other governments after he won the 7 year-long civil war with Russian and Iranian assistance.
Assad’s brother Maher, who is considered close to Soleimani, is reportedly helping the Iranians and their Shiite proxies with the relocation of the Iranian bases and weapon storehouses and has allowed the construction of new Iranian missile facilities at Syrian army bases in the Damascus area.
One of these bases is home to the Fourth Armored Division of the Syrian army which is commanded by Maher al-Assad.
The Iranians are working nonstop to expand their missile arsenal in Syria and are seeking to produce the Burkan-2H short-range ballistic missile and a new version of the Golan 1000 missile which has a payload of 450 kilograms.
Local Syrian media on Sunday published new satellite images which delivered evidence of the construction of the new Iranian facilities at Syrian army bases and the reconstruction of missile facilities destroyed by Israel.
Aman, the Israeli military intelligence agency, last week reported Iran decided to relocate the underground missile facilities it was building in Lebanon until they were exposed by Israel and subsequently removed by Hezbollah.
The Organization of Technological Industries (OTI) in Syria helped Iran and Hezbollah circumventing US and European sanctions and is assisting Iran and Hezbollah with the development of precision-guided missiles in Syria.
At the same time, Iran continues to expand its arsenal of mid-range and long-distance (nuclear-capable) ballistic missiles.
The past few weeks Iran unveiled or tested two new guided missiles which could be used in a future war against Israel.
On Saturday, the IRGC unveiled the Dezful surface-to-surface missile which has a reach of 700 kilometers after successfully testing its new Hoveizeh cruise missile with a range of 1,330 kilometers.
IRGC commander Mohammed Ali Jafari unveiled the missile at a thus far secret underground ballistic missile facility dubbed “the underground city” according to Fars News in Iran.
“Displaying this missile production facility deep underground is an answer to Westerners … who think they can stop us from reaching our goals through sanctions and threats,” Jafari reportedly said.
The IRGC commander attacked the European Union which on Monday last week finally uttered a condemnation of Iran’s ballistic missile program and said it was “gravely concerned” by Tehran’s recent activities.
Indicating Iran for the first time Iran could still be working on nukes the EU said the Iranian activities “deepen mistrust and contribute to regional instability.”
“Iran should refrain in particular from any work on missiles designed to be capable of delivering a nuclear weapon,” according to the EU statement which stopped short of announcing European sanctions against Iran.
The Trump Administration, meanwhile, is upping up the pressure on other countries to follow its lead and to (re)impose “tougher international restrictions to deter Iran’s missile program.”
UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic in 2015 calls on Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”
PHOTO: Will Israelis again be rushing to gas mask distribution centers as Iran’s missile arsenal in Syria grows? (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)