Strategic intent: Iran sets up underground rocket factories in Lebanon

Strategic intent: Iran sets up underground rocket factories in Lebanon
Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on the march. (Image: AFP via Der Spiegel)

Iran has reportedly built underground rocket factories in Lebanon.

Iran has established rocket factories in Lebanon that are under the full control of the Hezbollah terror group, a top Iranian general told a Kuwaiti newspaper.

Citing one of the deputy heads of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the al-Jarida newspaper reported Monday that Iran in recent months has established factories for manufacturing both rockets and firearms in Lebanon.

The report came just days after Iran’s Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan, a former brigadier general in the IRGC, said Hezbollah is now capable of producing rockets that can hit any part of Israel. Dehghan offered no details of the new capabilities.

The new factories, said to be located underground, have reportedly been in operation for the past three months. …

The manufacturing sites are located some 50 meters (160 feet) underground, according to the report, and are protected by multiple layers of defenses from potential Israeli aerial bombardment. No facility produces rockets in their entirety; rather, each site produces separate parts that are then collected and assembled into complete rockets.

It’s a credible report.  The capability claimed is fully feasible.  Iran has been able to build and operate something like this for at least 30 years; doing it in Lebanon is a matter of access and resources, not know-how.

It’s by Obama’s hand that Iran has had access and resources.  The access bonanza came in the years since 2011, which opened a constantly-available route from Iran across Iraq and Syria, instead of by sea.  Iran used to have to try to deliver arms to Hezbollah by highly interdictable routes, where detection was almost guaranteed because surveillance was intensive, and Iran’s attempts were occasional.

The Arab Spring threw Syria into chaos, making outside surveillance a more difficult task.  It also served as the pretext for Iran to increase her force presence there tremendously.  The more traffic between the two countries, the more materiel Iran could sneak back and forth.  Obama never pushed back against this.

Once Obama pulled the U.S. strategic-level presence out of Iraq at the end of 2011, the intensity of quality surveillance there plummeted dramatically, and there was nothing to counteract the weak-hand posture of the ineffective Iraqi national government.  Iran quickly became able to simply exploit Iraqi airspace to get to and from Syria on a routine basis.  The only thing stopping Iran from using the main land route between Baghdad and the Syrian border was ISIS.  (Hence Iran’s interest in pushing ISIS westward through the Euphrates Corridor.)

The Iranian push into Iraq orchestrated by Qods Force command Qassem Soleimani, 2014-2016. (Google map; author annotation)

Iran didn’t have to keep trying to deliver things to Hezbollah by sea.  The “internal” line of communication to Syria, cross-country, became constantly available.

Of course, Israel launched multiple attacks on weapons stores and convoys assembled in Syria for delivery to Hezbollah.  The Iranian official quoted in the Times of Israel report discusses that as a key problem.

But one of the ways Iran has been getting around that is using commercial flights from Iran to Lebanon (or Damascus) to deliver military cargo for Hezbollah.  Commercial flights are something Israel can’t justify interdicting.  It was Barack Obama who made it possible for Iran to operate such flights, by declining to take action against the Iranian airline involved, even though it’s on the U.S. list of sanctioned entities.  (Proliferating arms violates both U.S. and UN sanctions on Iran — sanctions that are separate from the nuclear and missile-program sanctions.)

The commercial air traffic burgeoned after January 2016, when the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions was finalized under the 2015 JCPOA (the so-called Iran “deal”).  Indeed, the timeline for the underground factories in Lebanon appears to fit with that watershed as well.

It was a big watershed, not only because Iran had greater economic freedom with the lifting of the sanctions, but because Obama loaded Iran up with somewhere between $11 and $33 billion in cash deliveries, much of it drawn from the U.S. Treasury.  In other words, Obama caused the American taxpayer to fund Iran’s military activities.

It is as specious to argue that we can’t trace what the cash was used for as it is to argue that Iran could have accomplished any of this without Obama’s policies.  Since 2011, Iran has had steadily more access to Lebanon, and more resources to arm Hezbollah with.

Israel would still have the capability to get at the underground facilities, which presumably are in southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah holds the territory.  But it will require a greater scope of effort to take them out, and will do much more damage to the surrounding locations, than would have been required to attack the Hezbollah arms stores of 10 years ago.  Politically, the guarantee of tremendous collateral damage probably ratchets up the justification required, perhaps by an order of magnitude.

There is no meaningful limit either on the type of weapon that can be manufactured or stored.  I am not speaking of nuclear warheads at this point.  But tactical missiles with improved accuracy and far more lethal warheads than Israelis have yet had to face from Hezbollah or Hamas are not just realistic; they are inevitable.  Chemical weapons are very possible.

Conceivably, Iran can also stockpile modern coastal cruise missiles in Lebanon, and ballistic missiles that could hit targets in the Eastern Mediterranean.  We would once have been inclined to assume Iran would only store older, less-capable weapons with Hezbollah.  The patron and client in this situation don’t trust each other that much.

But recent reports indicate Iran wants to build a naval base in Syria — another inevitable development (Iran’s been talking about it for a while), and one that clarifies Iran’s intention to treat the Mediterranean coast as military-strategic geography.  Hezbollah is no longer just a terrorist client.  Hezbollah is a political ally in a prime geographic position.  We should expect to see the relationship between Iran and Hezbollah develop along those lines in the days ahead.  (Just as relationships inside Syria will come increasingly to dovetail with Iran’s strategic vision, like the announcement this week of a new “Golan Liberation Brigade” by Iran-affiliated guerrillas in Syria.  H/t: TIP)

Iran isn’t just arming Hezbollah so the terrorists can try to plink the odd Israeli village with 50-year-old rocket technology.  Iran is emplacing a war-making capability that will be interplexed with an operational rear in Syria, and with locally deployed naval, air, and anti-air assets, to dominate first Israel’s coast and narrow interior, and then the Mediterranean’s entire easternmost corner, from the Suez Canal to the southern coast of Turkey.

Hezbollah is basically being paid in kind to guard it, for the time being.

Ten years ago, few readers would have accepted that Iran could be where she is today, with such possibilities actually open before her.  But here we are.  It’s too late to argue that Iran can’t accomplish this.  Effective permission has been a game-changing catalyst for Iran over the last eight years.  Now all she needs is time.


J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.

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