Iran's Elite Revolutionary Guard Showcases Secret Underground Missile Base

Meanwhile, Iranian lawmakers and top commander visit Syria ahead of anti-rebel offensive with Hezbollah.

AFP PHOTO / HO / IRINN

Iran's Revolutionary Guard opened the doors of a secret underground missile base to state TV, showing off medium- and long-range missiles. The video came as Syrian army was said to be preparing an offensive backed by Iranian soldiers and Russian jets. 

The station Wednesday aired footage of long tunnels with ready-to-fire missiles on the back of trucks. The broadcast said the facility is one of hundreds of underground missile bases around the country. It didn't disclose the location but said it was 500 meters (1,600 feet) underground.

Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of the Guard's aerospace branch, boasted that the facility is the "tip of the iceberg" of the Guard's military might.

The broadcast appeared aimed at showing that the Guard will continue its missile program despite UN Security Council resolutions and despite Iran's nuclear deal with the West. Days earlier, Iran said it successfully test-fired a new long-range surface-to-surface missile.

A Russian-Iranian offensive in Syria

Supported by two weeks of air strikes, the Syrian army and its allies in Iran and Hezbollah have been fighting insurgents in northern Hama province, and neighboring Idlib and Latakia provinces, trying to reverse rebel gains over the summer which had threatened the coastal heartlands of President Assad's Alawite minority. 

Assad's foreign opponents appear to be stepping up support for rebel groups in response to the Russian-Iranian intervention. Rebels say they have plentiful supplies of U.S.-made anti-tank missiles that are helping them to hold off ground attacks. 

Iran has sent thousands of additional troops into Syria in recent days to bolster one offensive that is underway in the Hama province and in preparation for another in the Aleppo area, two senior regional officials told Reuters.

In another sign of Iran's central role in support of Assad, a team of Iranian lawmakers arrived in Damascus on Wednesday, and pictures circulated on social media showed the head of the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, in western Syria.

Soleimani was pictured in a wooded area of northern Latakia province addressing Iranian officers and Hezbollah fighters with a microphone, wearing dark clothes as he spoke to the men in camouflage.

"This leak at this time is deliberate and part of managing the battle in which the Russian Sukhois (warplanes) are taking part," said Salem Zahran, a Lebanese media pundit with close ties to Hezbollah and the Syrian government.

Meanwhile, two senior Revolutionary Guards officers were killed fighting Islamic State in Syria on Monday, Iran's Tasnim news agency reported, although it did not say where. Another senior Guards commander was killed last week, as was a top Hezbollah commander.

Russia has stepped up its air strikes in recent days, announcing on Tuesday it had carried out 88 missions in the previous 24 hours, one of the heaviest days of bombardment of its campaign so far.

Moscow's intervention means Russian and U.S. jets are flying combat missions over the same country for the first time since World War Two, raising fears of possible accidental confrontation.

Russia says it has asked Washington to discuss coordination of military efforts, but Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday the United States had declined to send a high-level military delegation to Moscow for discussions. 

Syrian state media said on Wednesday the army had also launched a fresh military operation against rebel-held areas east of Damascus, including Jobar and Harasta, controlled by non-Islamic State rebel groups including Jaish al-Islam.