In tacit threat, Israeli intel firm releases photo of suspected Iranian tunnel
Satellite images show apparent underground storage passage on an alleged IRGC base in eastern Syria, near the Iraqi border
Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.
In an apparent threat, an Israeli intelligence firm on Tuesday released photographs of what it said is an Iranian tunnel being dug along the Syria-Iraq border to assist in the movement of weapons throughout the Middle East.
According to the private satellite image analysis company ImageSat International, the tunnel is likely being used to store Iranian missiles en route to Tehran’s proxies throughout the region.
In some cases in the past, suspected areas of Iranian military entrenchment have been identified and publicized by ImageSat International shortly before the sites were targeted in airstrikes attributed to Israel.
The tunnel, whose entrance can be seen in satellite images, is located on a suspected Iranian military base, known as the Imam Ali base, in Syria’s Boukamal region, near the Iraqi border. The base has been the site of several Israeli airstrikes in the past year, including some in the past few days, according to Syrian media.
ImageSat said the tunnel appears to have been built in response to these airstrikes, as a means to protect high-quality munitions from Israeli attacks.
“Currently, the estimated tunnel’s width is 4-5 meters and its length is unknown. Due to the area’s rigid flat terrain, it is unlikely that the tunnel will be extended significantly,” it wrote in its report.
The firm said the capacity makes it large enough to “securely store weapon systems, possibly advanced, for protecting them from airstrikes.”
The Boukamal region in Syria is seen as critical to Tehran’s effort to establish a land corridor from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, and out to the Mediterranean Sea in order to more easily move weapons and fighters throughout the Middle East. Israel has vowed to prevent Iran from establishing a military presence in Syria.
On Sunday, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel was taking action to force Iran’s military out of Syria.
“We are telling the Iranians: Syria will become your Vietnam,” he said, referring to the disastrous American war.
“If you don’t leave, you will become entrenched and you will bleed because we will work without hesitation to remove aggressive forces from Syria,” Bennett said.
The defense minister’s comments came shortly after reports emerged of an airstrike on three Iranian-controlled weapons depots the night before, which killed several members of Tehran-supported militias, according to Syrian media outlets.
The outlets said the attack was carried out by unidentified aircraft, though many analysts speculated that Israel was behind the raid.
The Israeli military as a rule does not comment on specific airstrikes in Syria, save for those that are in retaliation for attacks on Israel.
Some news sites reported that four fighters were killed in the strike, while others said five. The Syrian government did not immediately release an official tally.
According to the Syrian Step News agency, the airstrikes occurred around 10 p.m. on Saturday, targeting three munitions storehouses. The outlet cited “well-placed sources” as saying that the four people killed were guards at the storehouses who were members of militias backed by Iran.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said that at least five militiamen were killed in the strike.
The Saturday night strikes came days after reports of a similar raid in the same region.
Last Wednesday, unidentified aircraft bombed other Iranian-controlled weapons storehouses in Boulkamal, causing a massive explosion, according to Step News.
The outlet reported that the planes fired several missiles at warehouses belonging to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps at the al-Hamdan airport, outside Deir Ezzor. Troops on the ground fired anti-aircraft weapons at the attacking planes, the news site said. There were no reports of casualties in that raid.
Last month, Iranian troops fired several rockets at northern Israel from Syria and the Israel Defense Forces retaliated with a series of airstrikes on Iranian and Syrian military targets.
According to a Syrian war monitor, at least 23 combatants were killed in those strikes, 16 of them likely Iranians. An Israeli official said the military believed that to be an inflated number, with the actual death toll estimated to be closer to 10.
Though it does not generally comment on specific attacks, Israel has generally acknowledged carrying out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against Iranian targets over the last several years. Iran has forces based in Syria, Israel’s northern neighbor, and supports Hezbollah and Gaza terrorists.