Iran-backed missile plants busting out all over western Syria, Lebanon

Last week, numerous news sites picked up on a report that Iran has been helping to construct a missile production complex in Syria near the coastal city of Baniyas, north of Tartus.

Analysts at ImageSat International (ISI) published an analysis of Israeli satellite imagery that suggested a similarity between structures at the Syrian site and structures at “an Iranian missile factory near Tehran.”

The comparison images used by ISI show buildings from the missile factory complex at Parchin, southeast of Tehran (see images below).  This area of Parchin has been involved in manufacturing Scud, Fateh 110, Zelzal, and other shorter-range missiles for some time.  Surface-to-air missiles and antitank missiles are also reportedly manufactured there, along with certain parts for the intermediate-range Shahab and Ghadr missile programs.

Of particular interest in the comparison images is the set of Iranian structures with the berms around them.  A tight array of such buildings, like the one seen in the factory complex at Parchin, is characteristic of a solid-propellant production facility for ballistic missiles.  (See further below for overview images and context.)

Detail of the missile factory compound at Parchin showing the location of structures similar to those being built near Baniyas Syria. (Google satellite image; author annotation)

If the construction in Syria east of Baniyas develops along a similar line – i.e., if the long building with the tower, surrounded by the berm, becomes part of a tight array of neatly bermed structures – it would be likely that the buildings in question had a similar purpose.

Syria has had the capability to manufacture missiles of the same quality for some years now.  (Iran was helping Assad build missile production facilities in Aleppo and Homs since at least 2007, including a capability to produce solid missile fuel.)  The missile facility near Baniyas doesn’t necessarily represent a step forward for Syria in terms of missile quality – although it may.  Building a newer facility like Iran’s current missile complex could allow Syria to manufacture a new generation of missiles with little up-tooling.

But the new facility comes on top of other evidence that Iran is expanding the capacity to build missiles – and probably other weapons components – in western Syria and Lebanon.  The number of reports on this is accelerating, and importantly, it keeps identifying more locations.

Moreover, those locations have some interesting qualities besides the similarity of structures noted by ISI.

One is the concentration of manufacturing plants and possible special-weapons structures within a few kilometers of each other, around comparatively rural, hilly terrain, taking advantage of water sources and the potential for tunneling.

The other is the reportedly extensive use of underground chambers.

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