by: Ilse Strauss
Monday, 14 January 2019 | In a rare and unprecedented admission, Israel publically claimed responsibility for targeting Iranian weapon depots in Damascus on Friday evening—and warned the Jewish state would take more decisive action if needed in the future to prevent Tehran from gaining a military foothold on Israel’s doorstep in war-torn Syria.
“The Israel Defense Forces has attacked hundreds of Iranian and Hezbollah targets. Just in the past 36 hours, the air force attacked Iranian depots full of Iranian weapons in the Damascus International Airport,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday morning during the weekly cabinet meeting in his Jerusalem office.
The latest strikes, he continued, “underline that we are more determined than ever to act against Iran in Syria, precisely as we have promised.”
Hours later, Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s position, adding that the Jewish state would intensify its efforts and strike even harder to thwart Iranian attempts to establish a military outpost on its northern border.
Speaking during a tour of the Upper Galilee to review the conclusion of Operation Northern Shield, during which the Israel Defense Forces located and destroyed six underground terror tunnels dug by Iran’s terror proxy Hezbollah to cross from Lebanon into Israel, Netanyahu said Friday’s strikes reflect the Jewish state’s “consistent policy and firm determination to prevent Iran’s military buildup in Syria.”
“If necessary, we will intensify these attacks,” he warned.
The Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad accused Israel of launching a number of missiles towards Damascus International Airport on Friday evening. The regime-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) quoted a senior military source as saying Syria’s air defense system was successful in intercepting and downing “most” of the Israeli missiles. The source claimed the strike caused only “material damage to one of the ammunition warehouses.” A Syrian Transport Ministry official also told SANA that airport activities are continuing as normal.
However, reports from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights tell a different story. According to the UK-based watchdog organization, Israeli warplanes struck various targets belonging to Iran and its terror proxy Hezbollah throughout Syria, destroying a number of weapons depots and warehouses, The Mideast Update reports. A number of other local reports also claim the strikes destroyed Iranian cargo planes at the Damascus International Airport.
Israel’s usual policy is to refrain from commenting on any operations conducted outside its borders. Jerusalem has, however, chosen to deviate slightly from this policy as of late, with admissions that it does operate beyond its northern border to enforcing its red lines in Syria, thus preventing Iran from establishing a military stronghold on Israel’s doorstep and using the chaos of civil war to funnel game-changing weapons from Tehran via Damascus into the eager hands of Hezbollah.
In September last year, senior IDF officials told reporters during a media briefing that Israel has struck more than 200 Iranian targets in Syria since 2017. The targets included shipments of advanced weaponry and military bases and infrastructure. According to the IDF officials, the strikes have been successful in that they forced the Iranians to abandon some of the posts.
Outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot echoed Israel’s ongoing operations in Syria—and its success—on December 23, 2018. “Israel is operating and will continue to operate against Iranian entrenchment in Syria. Iran’s efforts to establish a military infrastructure in Syria have been the IDF’s top concern for the past four years. Iran’s vision was to build a force of about 100,000 fighters with integrated land, sea, and intelligence capabilities and to build a line of outposts in the Golan Heights. Israel has worked continuously and has thwarted Iran’s efforts, in an entirely independent Israeli operation against a whole gamut of actors.”
Two days after Eisenkot’s admission, a Hezbollah facility for storing Fajr-5 missiles located on an Iranian base in Syria some 40 kilometers (25 mi.) from the border with Israel was destroyed in an overnight raid. At the time Associated Press claimed an unnamed Israeli security official acknowledged the Jewish state’s was behind the strike. Official sources in Jerusalem, however, remained mum.
While Jerusalem has recently made no bones about the fact that it does operate in Syria, taking credit for an individual strike is, however, an extremely rare move. Official admissions can, after all, spark retaliation from Syria, Iran or Hezbollah. In the aftermath of Friday’s strike—and Netanyahu’s unprecedented admission—one cannot help but wonder what prompted the deviation from the norm.
Perhaps the answer lies in that Friday’s strike and Netanyahu’s subsequent admission coincides with the commencement of the US troop withdrawal from Syria. Following last month’s announcement by President Donald Trump that the US would leave the war-torn country, Netanyahu vowed to escalate its efforts against Iranian-aligned forces in Syria.
“We will continue to act very aggressively against Iran’s efforts to entrench in Syria,” he said at the time. “We do not intend to reduce our efforts. We will intensify them, and I know that we do so with the full support and backing of the United States.”
Perhaps Friday’s strike and Netanyahu’s subsequent admission is meant as a warning to Iran that Israel means business.
Posted on January 14, 2019
Source: (Bridges for Peace, January 14, 2019)
Photo Credit: Israeli Air Force/wikimedia.org
Photo License: Wikimedia
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