by Erez Linn, Yoni Hersch, Lilach Shoval, Daniel Siryoti and News Agencies
BBC obtains satellite images showing significant construction at military base some 9 miles south of Damascus
|A satellite image showing the alleged Iranian military base in January Photo: BBC|
Amid rising tensions over Iran's growing influence in the Middle East, Western intelligence sources told the BBC last week that Iran was building a military base in Syria some 30 miles from the border with Israel.
The report appears to confirm Israeli fears that the ayatollahs intend to establish a permanent military base in Syria under the cover of the civil war that has been raging in the country since 2011.
The compound, reportedly already partly built, is located at the site of a Syrian military base outside of Al-Kiswah, some 9 miles from Damascus, an intelligence official told the BBC.
Satellite images obtained by the British broadcasting network show extensive construction on the site between January and October this year. The images show construction or renovation of more than 20 buildings comprising multiple stories. It is believed that the buildings are meant to house soldiers or military vehicles.
Another Western source cited in the report said senior Iranian officials had visited the compound in recent weeks. The network said there was no clear-cut indication of Iranian military presence at the site at the moment, adding that the purpose of the complex was still uncertain.
However, another Western source that spoke to the network said that the construction was consistent with Iran's strategic goals – to strengthen the Shiite crescent from Iran to Lebanon, expanding not only Iran's political power, but also its logistic supply lines.
The BBC reported that Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iran's elite Quds Force in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, had been seen in Syria a number of times.
"With a significant number of IRGC [soldiers] fighting – and in some cases dying – in Syria, there has already been a significant presence in the country, but the question is now whether they are preparing to remain in the long term," the BBC said.
Even though it is unclear who is currently there, the network reported that Shiite "fighters from other countries – including Pakistan and Afghanistan – are also alleged to be operating in Syria under the control of the IRGC and it is possible the base could be used by them. Analysts estimate up to 500 troops could be based at the site."
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, both of whom attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam Saturday, issued a joint statement saying that they "agreed that there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria. They confirmed that the ultimate political solution to the conflict must be forged through the Geneva process pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254."
In addition, "The presidents agreed to maintain open military channels of communication between military professionals to help ensure the safety of both U.S. and Russian forces and de-confliction of partnered forces engaged in the fight against ISIS. They confirmed these efforts will be continued until the final defeat of ISIS is achieved."
The leaders were seen together three times at the summit, displaying warm relations. According to the White House, they spent some five minutes together, in what the White House called "a good meeting."
Trump even said he asked his Russian counterpart about accusations that Moscow intervened in the last U.S. election, and that Putin categorically denied them.
"He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election," Trump said.
"Every time he sees me he says, 'I didn't do that,' and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. But he says, 'I didn't do that.' I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country," Trump said.
Erez Linn, Yoni Hersch, Lilach Shoval, Daniel Siryoti and News Agencies
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