geopolitics-00412.jpg-min

An underground advanced weapons facility is being built at Imam Ali military base in Al-Bukamal, Syria’s border area with Iraq, recent satellite imagery captured by ImageSat International (ISI) shows.

Satellite images from the area captured May 12 by ISI show bulldozers at the entrance of a 15-foot-wide structure on the northwestern edge of the base, the agency said. Images from April 1 show an excavator and bulldozers near the new construction site.

The length of the constructed tunnel remains unknown, with ISI assessing that the structure will not be significantly long due to the rigid terrain in the region. According to ISI, the tunnel is fit to be used as a storage facility for vehicles carrying advanced missile weaponry and provide shelter to its operators.

It was recently reported the Islamic Republic began reducing its military presence in the Levantine state following numerous airstrikes reportedly carried out by the IAF. Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said last week that the strikes would continue “until we achieve our final goal: driving Iran out of Syria,” N13 reported.

“We say to Iran – you have nothing to look for in Syria,” he continued. “As long as you continue building there terror bases, we will only expand our strikes.” On Wednesday Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah said the defense minister was “lying when showing Israelis the achievements of the strikes.” The leader of the pro-Iranian paramilitary group added that “Israel is still continuing its battles in Syria, but it has lost the war.”

Once controlled by the Islamic State, the area of Al-Bukamal on the Syrian-Iraqi border is home to large Iranian and pro-Iranian forces, including the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force and various Shia militias. In the first four months of 2020, the Syrian regime blamed Israel for at least five major strikes in the country. Over the last two weeks, the Israeli activity in the area rose with a series of alleged airstrikes carried out by the IAF targeting pro-Iranian forces.

“Israel sees the ability to manufacture missiles on Syrian land as a threat, which is why it strikes everything related to missile manufacturing in Syria,” Nasrallah said, according to Ynet. “If this will continue, Israel might make the entire region blow up.” He added that “Israel sees sees Syria as a future threat and is worried about the Iranian presence and the axis of resistance. Israel cannot say it wants to attack the Syrian Arab Army so it set itself a goal of attacking Hezbollah and Iranian forces, with an emphasis on the Iranian forces.”

As the majority of the Israeli airstrikes in western Syria are carried out from Lebanese airspace, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged Israel to cease its overflight above Lebanon prior to the Wednesday closed-door Security Council discussion on Syria. Guterres also called for the disarmament of Hezbollah in order to ensure stability in the region following the militia’s heavy involvement in the Syrian civil war. Formed in 1984 from a group of small terrorist gangs inspired by the Iranian Islamic revolution of 1979, the group grew during the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon, killing dozens of Israeli soldiers.

After the IDF withdrew from the area in 2000, Hezbollah took over South Lebanon and remained active in the Syrian-controlled Beqaa valley and Baalbek until Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005. In 2017, the Center on Foreign Relations estimated Hezbollah’s arsenal at 130,000 missiles, ranging from unguided short-range anti-tank missiles to middle-range ballistic missiles.