It is an open secret that the Islamic Republic maintains a heavy military presence inside Syria, where for the past decade it has supported Syrian president Bashar al Assad against an armed rebellion. While it is difficult to know the extent of this military support in monetary terms, we searched open-source material and conducted our own interviews to identify the locations of major Iranian-backed military bases and outposts inside Syria.
Hover and click on any flag in the interactive map below, and you will see a popup of a satellite image of the military installation located there and a summary of its function.
According to open-source information, the Islamic Republic oversees the training and operations of around 80,000 militia—both Iranian and mercenary forces—who are scattered in military installations throughout Syria. Most of these installations are preexisting military structures that used to be operated by the Syrian military before being partially or wholly handed over to Iranian forces. This process began during Syria’s civil war to facilitate Iranian support for Assad’s military efforts. There are also reports that Iran has built at least one major military base from scratch inside Syrian territory.
Overview of Iran’s Military Bases in Syria
In 2014, Assad gave Iranian forces permission to use as IRGC headquarters a hotel near the Damascus International Airport, a structure dubbed the “Glass House.” The Israeli air force later targeted the structure with airstrikes, which prompted Iranian forces to shift the weight of their Syria headquarters elsewhere, mainly to the T4/Altyas military airport in the north and the Imam Ali base situated to the east, near the Iraqi border.
In 2015, Iranian forces began constructing what is believed to be the first Iranian structure built from scratch inside Syria, mostly below ground. It is operated by the Quds Forces and connected by road to the Iranian-run T4/Altyas Airport base. This makes it a vital transportation point for personnel and material from Iran, Iraq, and other mercenary recruitment centers such as those in Afghanistan.
Regional Commands of Iranian Forces Inside Syria
In order to help bolster Assad’s forces in other parts of Syria, Iranian forces have organized their military command by region as follows:
Aleppo Region: In 2015, the IRGC began overseeing military operations from Jabal Azzan Base to bolster Assad forces in and around Aleppo province. The Iranian-backed militias that fought in this region include Lebanese Hizbollah, Iraqi Nujaba Movement, the Afghan Fatimiyoun Brigade, and the Palestinian Jerusalem Brigade.
Southern Provinces: Al Seen Airport Base, along with Kiswa outpost, both oversee Iranian-backed militia known to operate in Syria’s southern provinces. These militias include Iranian Jaafari Forces, Lebanese Hizbollah, Syrian Baqer militia, and Afghan Fatimid Brigade as well as multiple Iraqi militias: Sayed al Shuhada, Abu Fadel Abbas, and the Abdal Movement.
Central Provinces: The Shayrat Airbase serves as a forward operating base for Iranian materiel and personnel in support of Iranian-backed militia throughout Syria’s central region.
Lebanese Hizbollah Liaison Outpost: The Qusair Base, which sits near the Lebanese border, serves mostly as a Hizbollah military base in Syria and a liaison point with Iranian forces.
Additionally, there are two main underground Iranian-operated outposts that sit farther to the west, in proximity to the Russian navy base in the Syrian port city of Tartous. They are:
Jabal Maerin: An Iranian military base that is said to be buried almost entirely under a hill.
Jabal Zein al Abidin: An Iranian military and communications outpost that sits next to a Shia shrine 600 meters above sea level. It is said to house a joint-operational room staffed by both Syrian forces and the IRGC.
How we conducted our research:
Our first step in gathering information for this story came from scouring the internet for open-source material, including the list of websites provided below. After examining this information and tracing it back to its original sources, we determined that much of it originated from Syrian opposition figures, including the rebels who at times engaged militarily with the Iranian-backed forces listed throughout this story. Some information about Iranian-backed military bases also became publicly available after airstrikes were carried out against them. To corroborate the existence of these military installations, we then searched Google Earth by specific locations and/or coordinates and found the satellite images featured in our interactive map. We have only included the military installations that we could confidently verify in this way. To bolster our reporting on this sensitive story, we also interviewed (on background) several Western military experts who corroborated our overall findings.
Here’s a list of the main open sources that we credit for this research: