Iran Sinks a Fordow-Style Facility under a North Syrian Mountain

A fresh spurt in Iranian air freight traffic to Beirut international airport is reported by DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources. Hardly a day went by in the past week without the arrival of at least one – if not two – Iranian transport aircraft, making refueling stops at Damascus on their return flight.

This airlift set off alarm bells at the US CENTCOM Air Base at Udeid in Qatar and at Israeli military staff headquarters in Tel Aviv. Both are short of information on the reason for the accelerated Iranian air transport traffic and the nature of their cargoes. The CIA and Israeli intelligence services have, however, caught on to four major clandestine Iranian missile production projects in the making – over and above the dozens of small workshops known to be busy affixing precision-guidance components to Hizballah’s arsenal of thousands of medium- and long-range Fajr-5, Fateh-110 and Zilzal-2 surface missiles. Those workshops are scattered widely across Lebanon, although some are located in Beirut and some in western Syrian areas adjoining the Hizballah-ruled regions of eastern Lebanon.

Much less is known about the four large projects going up – two each in Lebanon and Syria, but Tehran appears to be in a hurry to get them finished. Construction is in the hands of the Khatam Al-Anbiya Construction, an engineering firm owned by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Two are located 6km north of the town of Hermel in the Lebanese Beqaa Valley. The pair in Syria are going up near the western town of Masyaf, east of Banyas – both covered by the shield of the Russian S-400 air defense missiles protecting the Russian Khmaimim Air Base in Latakia (40km from Masyaf as shown on the attached map.)

Also located in the vicinity of Masyaf are two IRGC bases and the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (CERS), the euphemistic title of the Syrian army’s central laboratories for the development of military systems, including different types of chemical weapons.

Three of the four factories are finished and standing empty, possibly because the Iranians are wary of installing equipment that will attract destructive Israeli air strikes. DEBKA Weekly’s military sources have also discovered that while three of the four factories appear to be modeled on Iran’s missile plants in the military compounds of Parchin and Khujir, the fourth stands out as different and puzzling. Sunk under the mountains surrounding Wadi Jahannam near Banyas in northern Syria, this facility is assuming the shape of a subterranean military industrial city, built on the same lines as the Fordow underground facility in central Iran and sharing a similar natural setting and near impregnability.

Since the work is carried out below ground, it is hard to determine what stage it has reached. But when finished, this underground Iranian facility will present Israel and the United States with a novel and dangerous challenge. First, by its proximity: no more than 280km from Haifa, the largest town in northern Israel, the site of the Israel Navy’s main home base and a regular port of call for the US Sixth Fleet. Based there, too, are Israel’s nuclear-armed submarines geared for attacking targets in Iran.

The Wadi Jahannam structure is believed by Western military experts to have formidable protection – not just from natural rock, but the extra hardening gained from North-Korean bunker-building expertise, including multiple blast-proof doors, dividers, reinforced ceilings and 20-cm thick concrete walls. Its susceptibility to attack also depends on the depth of its chambers, which is not yet known. It is assumed by intelligence experts that the Syrian version of Fordow has longer approach tunnels than those at the original site, for added protection against air strikes and missiles able to penetrate tunnels.

The US has different types of conventional bunker-busting weapons, including the 5,000-pound BLU-122, which can penetrate more than 20 feet of concrete or 100 feet of earth before detonating. In recent years, the US supplied Israel with two types of bunker-buster bombs, BLU-109 and BLU-113. The US armory also contains a far more powerful Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), a 30,000-pound monster that can be delivered by the largest American strategic bombers. Its exact features are classified, but it is estimated to be able to bore through up to 200 feet of dirt and rock before exploding.

Iran’s revved up armaments industry in Syria and Lebanon confronts Israel and the US with tough quandaries. But first, they are trying to determine whether the current Iranian airlift has finished delivering all the equipment for the four large-scale manufacturing plants going up in Syria and Lebanon.

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