Case Studies in Iranian Expansion Across the Middle East: El Boqaa Training Facility, Lebanon
May 15, 2019This commentary is part II of the CSIS Transnational Threats Project’s Iran satellite imagery analysis series. Part I focuses on the Imam Ali training facility in Iran, which can be found here: www.csis.org/ imam-ali. For further analysis, please see, “War by Proxy: Iran’s Growing Footprint in the Middle East,” which can be found here: www.csis.org/war-by-proxy.
There is growing Iranian activism in the Middle East despite U.S. and allied efforts to weaken Iran’s economy and politically isolate Tehran. But Iran’s primary military instrument is not its conventional army, air force, or navy, which are relatively weak. Instead, Iran has provided significant resources and power to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC- QF). The IRGC-QF is Iran’s main irregular force and is instrumental in helping Iran expand its influence in the Middle East and other regions. It engages in a wide range of activities, such as gathering intelligence; training, equipping, and funding state and non-state partner forces; conducting assassinations and bombings; perpetrating cyberattacks; and providing humanitarian and economic aid. The IRGC-QF has partners in countries like Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bahrain.
In an effort to better understand IRGC-QF and broader Iranian activities, this analysis examines satellite imagery of the El Boqaa training facility in Lebanon, near the Syrian border. In Lebanon, the IRGC-QF’s chief partner, Hezbollah, has improved its military capabilities and become more involved in the government. Iran has provided money, equipment, training, and ideological inspiration to Lebanese Hezbollah. Commercial satellite imagery acquired in 2019 highlights a training facility in southern Lebanon, located southeast of the town of Beit Moubarak, on the eastern and southern slopes of El Boqaa.
Figure 1: Location of El Boqaa Training Facility, Lebanon
- minimize detection;
- allow for small groups of combatants to be trained independently and without contact with one another if desired; and
- minimize damage from aerial or artillery attack.
Figure 3: Firing Range No. 1, El Boqaa Training Facility, Lebanon
Figure 6: Housing and Storage Area, El Boqaa Training Facility, Lebanon
Figure 7: Driver Training Facility & Urban Combat Training Facility No. 1, El Boqaa Training Facility, Lebanon
Figure 8: Urban Combat Facility No. 2, El Boqaa Training Facility, Lebanon
Figure 9: Quarries, El Boqaa Training Facility, Lebanon
Figure 10: Headquarters and Support Areas, Part 1, El Boqaa Training Facility, Lebanon
Hezbollah’s El Boqaa training facility, and similar facilities in Lebanon and across the Middle East, highlights Iran’s commitment to using irregular methods, such as training partner forces, to project power through the region. Iranian leaders appear just as committed as ever to engagement across the Middle East using irregular methods. Based on Iran’s continuing activism in the region—led by the IRGC-QF and its head, Qassem Soleimani—the United States needs to closely cooperate with its partners to continue assessing the threat and to effectively balance against Iran.
But as highlighted in this analysis of El Boqaa training facility, Iran relies on irregular—not conventional—means to expand its power and leverage proxy forces and other partners in countries like Lebanon. Consequently, the U.S. response should focus on countering Iran’s activities through diplomatic, financial, informational, intelligence, and military (particularly special operations) means—but not escalating to conventional war.
Seth G. Jones holds the Harold Brown Chair, is director of the Transnational Threats Project, and is a senior adviser to the International Security Program at CSIS. Nicholas Harrington is a research assistant and program coordinator for the Transnational Threats Project and the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at CSIS. Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. is a senior fellow for Imagery Analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.
Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
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