Case Studies in Iranian Expansion Across the Middle East: Imam Ali Training Facility, Iran
May 15, 2019This commentary is part I of the CSIS Transnational Threats Project’s Iran satellite imagery analysis series. Part II focuses on the El Boqaa training facility in Lebanon, which can be found here: www.csis. org/el-boqaa. 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.
As U.S.-Iranian tensions escalate in the Middle East, it is important to take a close look at Iran’s primary irregular force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF). The IRGC-QF is instrumental in helping Iran expand its influence in the Middle East and other regions. It engages in a wide range of activity, 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 Imam Ali training facility, west of Tehran. Satellite imagery acquired in 2019 shows that locations like Imam Ali, which is on the northeast outskirts of the city of Qods, allow Iran to train and advise partner forces from across the region.
Figure 1: Location of Imam Ali Training Facility, Iran
Figure 3: Combat Training Facilities, Part 1, Imam Ali Training Facility, Iran
Figure 5: Warehouse and Storage Area, Imam Alit Training Facility, Iran
Figure 6: Housing and Storage Area, Imam Ali Training Facility, Iran
Figure 7: Headquarters Administration & Classroom, Imam Ali Training Facility, Iran
Figure 8: Mosque and Religious Education Area, Imam Ali Training Facility, Iran
Figure 9: The Original Base, Imam Ali Training Facility, Iran
The Original Base (Figure 9): The original base, which is located in the southeast corner of the enlarged facility, is connected to the new facility via an opening in its western wall. This area underwent minor expansion during 2008 and has remained relatively unchanged since that time. It consists of approximately 28 housing, warehouse, training, and headquarters and administration buildings. Vehicles or personnel are observed within the old base area in all imagery reviewed. The fact that this area retains its old walls and is active and well maintained in all imagery suggests that it may be used to house a separate component of the IRGC-QF or a separate category of trainees.
The Imam Ali training facility, and similar facilities throughout the country, highlight Iran’s commitment to using irregular methods like training partner forces to project power throughout 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.
As this case study highlights, Iran relies on unconventional or irregular means to expand its power and leverage proxy forces and other partners in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bahrain. 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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