Iran unveils underground airbase tasked with responding to potential Israeli assault

Iranian state news agency says hidden site home to fighter jets equipped with long-range cruise missiles

Pilots pose with an aircraft at a new underground Iranian air force base in this picture released February 7, 2023 (Iranian Army)
Pilots pose with an aircraft at a new underground Iranian air force base in this picture released February 7, 2023 (Iranian Army)

Iran unveiled what it said was its first underground air force base on Tuesday, with the head of the Islamic Republic’s military saying the site would be among those used to launch a response to any potential strikes by Israel or others.

“Any attack on Iran from our enemies, including Israel, will see a response from our many air force bases including Eagle 44,” Iran’s armed forces’ Chief of Staff Mohammad Bagheri told IRNA, according to the Reuters news agency.

IRNA said the Eagle 44 site was one of Iran’s most important military facilities, and would be home to fighter jets equipped with long-range cruise missiles.

The location of the base was not disclosed as part of attempts by Iran to put key military and nuclear facilities out of the way of potential strikes.

Israel is suspected of launching a series of attacks on Iran, including an assault on its underground Natanz nuclear facility that damaged its centrifuges.

Last year Iran’s army unveiled details about an underground base in the Zagros mountain range, where it said some 100 drones were stored. Iran has also shown off similar tunnels in the past, which serve as storage areas for missiles and drones.

Last week, there was a significant drone attack on a key Iranian defense facility in the city of Isfahan. The site hit in the strike was reportedly a weapons production facility for Iran’s killer Shahed-136 drones.

The attack was one of a number widely attributed to Israel, which has a policy of not commenting on such operations.

Iran’s domestically built missiles and satellite carriers are displayed in a permanent exhibition at a recreational area in northern Tehran, Iran, Feb. 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Iran threatened retaliation over Israel’s reported involvement in the Isfahan attack, warning Jerusalem “not to play with fire.”

In his previous term, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered numerous strikes on Iranian targets in Syria and operations on Iranian soil. He has been open about his intention to oppose Tehran’s nuclear aspirations at any cost, as Israel generally views an Iranian nuclear bomb as an existential threat.

A building damaged by a fire, at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, in a photo released on July 2, 2020. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

The United States, France, the United Kingdom and Germany on Friday denounced Iran’s “inadequate” responses after the International Atomic Energy Agency found an undeclared technical modification in Tehran’s nuclear program.

The UN body had noted a change in the operating mode for enriching uranium to 60 percent in the Fordo underground plant, which had not been previously reported.

The Fordo site has been closely monitored since Iran began producing 60% enriched uranium there in November 2022, in addition to the Natanz site.

This threshold greatly exceeds that of 3.67% set by the 2015 agreement between Tehran and the major powers and is approaching the 90% necessary to produce an atomic bomb.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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