Photos show ongoing work at Iran-linked Syrian base despite reported IDF strikes
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Photos show ongoing work at Iran-linked Syrian base despite reported IDF strikes

New fortifications, roads, buildings seen in satellite images of compound near Iraq; heavy construction also spotted nearby at border crossing believed to be under Tehran’s control

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Satellite image showing ongoing construction at an alleged Iranian military base in Syria's Boukamal region, near the Iraqi border, on September 21, 2019. (ImageSat International)
Satellite image showing ongoing construction at an alleged Iranian military base in Syria's Boukamal region, near the Iraqi border, on September 21, 2019. (ImageSat International)

Satellite images released Tuesday showed expanded construction at compounds allegedly controlled by Iran along the Syria-Iraq border, despite repeated airstrikes on the site in recent weeks that have been attributed to Israel.

The photographs, released by the private Israeli intelligence company ImageSat International, indicated the building of the site in the Boukamal region of eastern Syria has advanced over the past month.

The compound — known as the Imam Ali Base — is considered a critical element in Tehran’s efforts to create a land corridor under its control from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, into Lebanon and out to the Mediterranean Sea. Israeli officials have expressed grave concerns about such a “land bridge” as it could allow Iran to more easily transport weapons, fighters and materiel throughout the Middle East.

Several airstrikes have been reported at sites in this area in recent months, at least two of them in September alone, including one on September 9 in which 18 pro-Iranian fighters were reportedly killed.

Satellite image showing ongoing construction at an alleged Iranian military base in Syria’s Boukamal region, near the Iraqi border, on September 21, 2019. (ImageSat International)

Yet during this time, from September 9 to 21, new fortifications were built, access roads were created, buildings were completed and additional construction equipment was brought in to the base, according to the photographs released by the satellite image analysis firm.

“Despite the reported [September 9] attack, new military infrastructures, such as fortifications and revetments, access roads and trails within and around the base, are being built,” ImageSat said.

Work has also continued on two border crossings on either side of the Syria-Iraq border. An official Iraqi-controlled crossing is not yet active, but could be made operational shortly, according to ImageSat.

Satellite image showing ongoing construction at an alleged Iranian-controlled border crossing in Syria’s Boukamal region, near the Iraqi border, on September 21, 2019. (ImageSat International)

The second crossing, which is believed to be controlled by Iran through Shiite militias, is under “intense construction,” the company said.

This can be seen in the large amount of construction equipment at the site.

“A large volume of construction equipment is operating at the new border crossing, attributed to direct Iranian or Shiite militias’ control. Hangars and a perimeter wall are being laid on their foundations,” according to ImageSat.

Satellite image showing ongoing construction at an alleged Iranian-controlled border crossing in Syria’s Boukamal region, near the Iraqi border, on September 21, 2019. (ImageSat International)

Last Thursday, Arabic-language media reported that unknown aircraft attacked PMF posts in the Boukamal region of eastern Syria, near the Iraqi border, killing at least five people and wounding nine, after an earlier similar strike two days earlier.

Some Syrian and Iraqi outlets have said Israel was suspected of being behind the strikes. There were no such public allegations by Syrian or Iraqi officials.

On September 9, aircraft targeted an arms depot and posts of Iranian-backed militias in the Boukamal region, killing at least 18 fighters and destroying at least eight storehouses. A Syrian security official said at the time that Israeli jets were behind the attack but denied there were casualties.

Satellite image showing the aftermath of an overnight airstrike on an alleged Iranian military base in Syria’s Boukamal region, near the Iraqi border, on September 9, 2019. (ImageSat International)

Since mid-July, eight arms depots and training camps belonging to the Popular Mobilization Forces have been targeted in apparent attacks.

The Saudi-owned Al Arabiya network has reported that the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group also maintains a presence in the Boukamal region.

The PMF has blamed both Israel and the US for the string of blasts and drone sightings at its bases. Israeli officials have not publicly commented on these allegations, though Netanyahu has hinted at the possibility that Israel has struck in Iraq.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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