Iran is building a permanent military base in Syria just south of Damascus, the BBC reported Friday, citing a Western intelligence official. The British broadcaster commissioned a series of satellite pictures that indicate widespread construction at the site.
Israel has long warned that Iran is trying to establish a permanent presence in Syria as part of its efforts to control a land corridor from Iran through to the Mediterranean Sea as it attempts to expand its influence across the Middle East.
According to the BBC report, the base is situated at a site used by the Syrian army near El-Kiswah, 14 km (8 miles) south of Damascus, and 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Israeli border.
The BBC provided satellite images that show “a series of two dozen large low-rise buildings, likely for housing soldiers and vehicles.”
The photos, taken over several months, show additional buildings being constructed. However, the report said that “it is impossible to independently verify the purpose of the site and the presence of the Iranian military.”
“The images of the base do not reveal any signs of large or unconventional weaponry which means if it was a base it would most likely be to house soldiers and vehicles,” the BBC said, quoting a source who said it was possible that senior Iranian military officials may have visited the compound in recent weeks.
Also, the report said independent analysis of the images commissioned by the BBC concluded that the facility is military in nature. The analysis also suggested there are a series of garages that can hold six to eight vehicles each.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week that the threat posed by Iran to its Middle Eastern neighbors was driving them into hitherto unthinkable alliances with the Jewish state.
“Iran is devouring one nation after the other,” Netanyahu said at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs think tank in London.
“It is doing so either by direct conquest or by using proxy. They took over Lebanon, Yemen… they try to do the same thing with Iraq, in Syria.
“The good news is that the other guys are getting together with Israel as never before. It is something that I would have never expected in my lifetime,” Netanyahu said.
He said Israel was working “very hard” to establish an effective alliance with “the modern Sunni states” to condemn and counter Iranian aggression.
“I think that actually has a great promise of peace” for the region, he said.
Iran had come into the Syrian war “to Lebanon-ize Syria economically and militarily,” he said. But Israel, he vowed, would not let Iran come to dominate Syria.
“They want to leave their army, their airbases and fighter aircraft within seconds of Israel and we are not going to let that happen. We do not say that lightly. We mean what we say and we back it with action.”