There is growing Iranian activism in the Middle East despite U.S. and allied efforts to weaken Iran’s economy and politically isolate Tehran. 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 Guards Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF). There has been an increase in the size and capabilities of militias supported by the IRGC-QF in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen collectively. In an effort to better understand the IRGC-QF and broader Iranian activities, this analysis examines satellite imagery of locations where the IRGC-QF or its partners are training fighters.
War by Proxy: Iran’s Growing Footprint in the Middle East analyzes IRGC-QF activities in several ways. It compiles a database of Iranian proxy groups over time—including their capabilities and size—in order to gauge trends. It also analyzes satellite imagery of bases in countries like Syria, Lebanon, and Iran used by the IRGC-QF to better understand Iranian force posture and activities. Finally, it compiles and analyzes a database of Israeli attacks against targets in Syria, which provides a useful indicator of Iranian activity.
Part I focuses on the Imam Ali training facility in Iran. The Imam Ali training facility and similar facilities throughout the country highlight Iran’s use of irregular methods to project power throughout the region. 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.
Part II focuses on the El Boqaa training facility in Lebanon. 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.