Several Israeli news sites published a satellite photograph on Tuesday April 17 that they said showed an Iranian military airfield inside Syria. But in fact the photograph showed Mehrabad International Airport in the Iranian capital Tehran.

The Jerusalem Post published a satellite photograph with a caption saying it showed proof of Iranian military involvement in Syria. It said the photograph was one of three released by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman’s unit Tuesday morning.


A photograph published by the Jerusalem Post initially had a caption reading: "Photo intelligence released by the IDF on April 17, 2018 proving Iranian involvement in Syria. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)." The site subsequently corrected the caption, identifying it as follows: "Mehrabad airfield in Tehran is used by Iran's Revolutionary Guards unit to ship arms to Syria."


News sites Ynet and i24NEWS published the same photo, also identifying it as an Iranian base inside Syria. The sites, each citing an Israeli security official as their source, published articles saying that the Israeli military believed Iran was planning an air strike on Israel in retaliation for an alleged Israeli strike on April 9 that killed 14 people at Syrian air base T-4, including seven members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The sites published two other satellite photos they said showed Iranian air bases inside Syria.
 
Satellite photo turned upside down

The airport appears to be in a built-up urban area. And it is: the image shows Mehrabad airport in Tehran, which for decades was the city's principal airport, and since 2007 handles mainly domestic travel.

An original satellite photo of Mehrabad International Airport in Tehran is available on Google Maps:

A Google Maps image showing Tehran's Mehrabad International Airport, the Azadi Tower visible in the top-right corner


Does it look like the same airport? At first glance, no. But look closer at the round structure in the top-right corner of the Google Maps image, identified as the Azadi Tower, a Tehran landmark. The same structure is visible in the bottom-left of the black and white satellite photo. The satellite photo has been rotated through 180 degrees and is oriented South-North, not North-South.

When you rotate the Google Maps image, you see the similarities: distinctive groups of buildings, which we have circled in blue.

Screengrab of Google Maps image of Mehrabad International Airport rotated through 180 degrees. Blue circles added by France 24 to show distinctive features.

Satellite photo published by Israeli news sites. Blue circles added by France 24 to show distinctive features.

The same buildings are visible on this satellite image available online at Zoom.earth:



In accordance with longstanding policy on air strikes, the Israeli government has not confirmed the April 9 strike, but the US, Russia, Syria and Iran have all indicated that Israel was responsible. Iran's military aid to Syrian President Bashar al Assad has increased tensions with Israel. Israel says that a drone that was shot down by Israeli helicopters over Israeli airspace in Fenruary was launched by Iran from inside Syria.

While Mehrabad is primarily a civilian airport, it is also used by the Iranian military. In this satellite photo, fighter planes can be seen positioned next to cargo planes. While Mehrabad is primarily a civilian airport, it is also used by the Iranian military. In this satellite photo, fighter planes can be seen positioned next to cargo planes.

In these two satellite images, military aircraft are visible at Mehrabad International Airport. In the first image, two fighter planes can be seen next to a cargo plane. In the second, taken from map.tehran.ir, a fighter plane is visible on the right.