Latakia – Khmeimim / Bassel al-Assad International Airport – A new Iranian gateway for the transport of weapons and military equipment?

The main airports of Syria, Aleppo, and Damascus, have frequently been the target of attacks, especially since the beginning of the present war.  The last attacks against the airports in Aleppo and Damascus occurred on October 29 and November 26. Yet again, the strikes resulted in the closer of the airports.

Both Damascus and Aleppo airports serve as central air route gateway for the Iranian arms corridor.

In the above incidents, the Syrian aviation authorities rushed to reconstruct the runways in a matter of hours to days. This was also a reason for a kind of national pride and resilience that were expressed in photographed visits of senior Syrian officials to the airports after the airport reconstructions.

It seems that following the recent attacks, things have changed. The Syrian airlines “Syrian Airlines” and “Cham Wings” have decided for the time being that they can no longer use the airports in Damascus and Aleppo as bases for their operations. Since the end of October 2023, their civilian operations have been moved to Khmeimim / Bassel al-Assad International Airport south of Latakia.

On November 2, the Syrian Minister of Transport toured Khmeimim /Basel al-Assad Airport. Although the minister did not officially announce it, the purpose of the visit was defined as an inspection visit: to ensure that all the airport systems are prepared for a significant increase in the volume of flights.

Since then, the Syrian airlines “Syrian Airlines” and “Cham Wings” have released their most recent flight schedules virtually every day. From Khmeimim / Basel al-Assad Airport, all flights that were previously operated from Aleppo and Damascus are presently operating as normal. The companies have set up airport transportation from Damascus and other strategic points in Syria.

In practice, Khmeimim / Basel al-Assad Airport is actually a civilian airport located within the compound of the Russian military base – Khmeimim. The Russian Air Force planes and the commercial airport both use the same runways.

The Russian Khmeimim base and the Basel al-Assad civil airport are located adjacent to each other, about 4 km from the city of Jableh and 19 km south of the port city of Latakia. In August 2015, the site became the main Russian military base in Syria. In light of Russian need, the runways have even been improved and expanded so that giant Russian planes such as the Antonov 124 can land at the base alongside advanced aircraft such as the Sukhoi-35.

Khmeimim base houses about 1,500 Russian soldiers and another 200 soldiers from the Russian Navy. The base contains all types of weapons deployed and operated by the Russian army in Syria: planes and helicopters of all types (combat, transport, intelligence), UAVs, air defense systems, warehouses with large quantities of weapons, tanks, and armored vehicles.

The Russian presence gives the airport a kind of immunity. It should be noted that until last June the use of the airport was almost exclusively Russian, while the civilian airport was not operational. This is with the exception of the earthquake in northern Syria when several aid flights landed at the airport. However, over the course of three weeks, from the end of May 2023 to mid-June 2023, we detected unusual activity at the site: an Iran Air Boeing 747.21 landed six times at Khmeimim / Basel al-Assad Airport.

The landing of the “Iran Air” cargo plane raised a number of central questions in light of the fact that the IRGC uses the company’s planes to transport equipment and weapons:

Have the Russians begun to serve as a protective envelope for the Iranian air route arms transfer to Syria and Lebanon? Does the airport serve as a transit point for Iranian weapons/equipment on its way to Russia for the war in Ukraine, or vice versa, with Russian weapons or equipment being transferred to the Iranians?

The Iranians would benefit even more by shifting the focus of incoming air operations into Syria to Khmeimim / Basel al-Assad Airport, beginning at the end of October:

Pouya Air’s Ilyushin 76 transport plane (Ep-pus), which we know well, based on various publications, as used by the IRGC to transport equipment and weapons from Iran to Syria and from Iran to Moscow, landed four times from the beginning of November until now in Khmeimim / Basel al-Assad (November 9, November 16, November 30, December 07).

An Iranian state-owned business jet (EP-IGC) landed in Khmeimim /Basel al-Assad on November 20 and November 23.

A Yazd Airways Airbus 310 (Ep-DZA) landed 13 times in Khmeimim /Basel al-Assad during the above period (05 November, 08 November, 09 November, 15 November, 23 November, 29 November, 30 November, 03 December, 04 December, 06 December, 07 December, 10 December, 13 December). This is a relatively new Iranian airline (about which we published an article on November 28), which has clear ties to Mahan Air, which actually belongs to the Revolutionary Guards and is a central platform for transporting weapons and equipment to the Iranian proxy.

Can the Russians prevent the Iranians from transferring weapons through the air corridor via Khmeimim /Basel al-Assad Airport? They can.

Do they want to do that?  Not sure.

According to our assessment, the strengthening military cooperation between Iran and Russia against the background of the war in Ukraine and against the background of the Russian need to “stick another finger in the American eye”, greatly weakens the Russian desire to do so. In practice, it is possible that the Iranians are taking advantage of Russian dependence on Iranian weapons and know-how. Deliberate Russian disregard for the transfer of Iranian equipment and weapons via Khmeimim /Basal al-Assad to Syria and Lebanon is a perfectly realistic option.

In our assessment, there is also another Russian interest here. The CERS sites in Syria are currently an Iranian infrastructure for the development and production of weapons, including advanced weapons These weapons are intended first and foremost for Hezbollah to utilize from Syria and Lebanon. In addition, it is intended for Iranian proxy militias deployed in Syria.

In light of the military cooperation between Iran and Russia, weapons manufactured and developed in CERS can also be transferred for use by the Russians. Therefore, the question arises: Why should the Russians prevent Iranian planes from landing in Khmeimim/Basel al-Assad, with military equipment and components intended to be used by the Iranians in the development and production of weapons at CERS facilities? After all, in addition to Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Shiite militias in Syria, the Russians will also use these weapons…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Picture of Tal Beeri

Tal Beeri

Sign up for our Newsletter

Sign up to stay current on Israel’s border conflict.
Skip to content