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Iran to move weapons site from Damascus airport due to Israeli attacks: report

An alleged Iranian weapons depot at Damascus airport, apparently hit by Israeli air strikes, January 21st, 2019
IDF
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to intensify Israel action in Syria in the wake of the US withdrawal

Despite the nearing end of the Syrian Civil War, the country remains a battleground for competing international players seeking to maintain their power in the region. 

Following the wave of recent Israeli attacks on Damascus international airport targeting Iranian weapons storage sites, Iran is considering moving its weapons supply center far away to a different Syrian air base known as T4, located between Homs and Palmyra, Haaretz reported Thursday.

Iran has continued to build up its weapons facilities at Damascus airport throughout the course of the war, with the Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Brigade setting up its own independent compound just tens of meters away from the international terminal that serves as the main source of inbound and outbound flights for regular passengers.

Damascus International Airport (DAM), which is just 30 kilometers outside the Syrian capital, used to be the country's busiest airport, with more than 5.5 million customers going through its gates in 2010.

However, most international airlines halted flights as the civil war worsened, and today only a handful of flights take off and land on the Damascus runway.

According to the report, a seven-story Glasshouse that was originally built as a hotel acts as Iran’s headquarters in Syria, equipped with two underground bunkers that serve as a smuggling site for ammunition, missiles and precision technology bound for the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Syrian army, or Iranian army bases in Syria.

STR (AFP)

Israel claims that the Iranian activity at the airport puts passengers at risk as well as Assad’s regime.

The potential move may be chalked up to increased pressure on the relations between Moscow and Tehran in the wake of Israeli attacks, including two serious assaults in the last month that the Jewish state proudly claimed.

On Wednesday, the Kurdish news agency Bas News reported that this week Russia even blew up several bridges under the control of Iranian militias, as tensions escalate between Tehran and Moscow due to the latter’s compliance in Israel’s attack missions in the war-torn country.

The United States has also put pressure on Moscow to temper Iranian activity while President Donald Trump announced in December that the US would pull out its 2,000 troops from the country.

Trump claimed that Islamic State (IS) was defeated, but UN sanctions monitors issued a contradicting report this week that IS continues to pose by far the most significant threat of any terror group.

As a result, Trump has backpedaled on the timing and nature of the US exit from Syria, much to Iran's chagrin.

“Whether they want to or not, the Americans must leave Syria,” said Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reportedly told Iran’s Tasnim news agency this week. 

Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif hit back at Trump's statements vilifying Iran at his State of the Union address, retorting that United States was supporting "dictators, butchers and extremists" in the Middle East, likely referring to the Shiite powerhouse’s Sunni rivals Saudi Arabia and archfoe Israel.

ATTA KENARE (AFP/File)

The United States has said repeatedly that it will continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself against Iran and Hezbollah, including through targeted strikes in Syria, in the wake of its decision to remove American forces from the country.

Iran’s hub at the airport is roughly 50 kilometers from the Israeli border, which violates Russia’s agreement to keep Iranian activity at least at an 80-kilometer buffer zone.  

The abruptly announced decision to quit Syria had taken US allies by surprise, and Israel worried over whether Iran would be left with free rein to operate there and whether Russia would respond to its calls to limit it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to intensify Israeli action in the wake of the United States’ withdrawal.

Although it rarely publicly confirms them, Israel has recently spoken more openly of its raids -- analysts have determined that Netanyahu has deliberately done so despite significant criticism from his own coalition in an effort to further burnish his security credentials ahead of the April 9 elections.

Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against what it says are Iranian military targets and advanced arms deliveries to Tehran-backed Hezbollah.

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