After reported Syria strike, Israel says won’t let Iran bring ‘game-changing’ arms

Latakia fires doused hours after alleged Israeli attack; in visit to air force base, Gantz urges countries in region to stop letting Tehran stream weapons through their territory

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) at the Ramat David Air Base, which is home to a number of F-16 fighter jet squadrons, on December 28, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) at the Ramat David Air Base, which is home to a number of F-16 fighter jet squadrons, on December 28, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned Iran on Tuesday that Israel will not allow it to spread “game-changing” weaponry to its proxies in the region, hours after the Israeli military reportedly struck arms shipped from Iran in Syria’s Latakia port.

“I call on all countries of the region to stop Iran’s harm to their sovereignty and to their citizens. Israel will not allow Iran to stream game-changing weapons to its proxies and to threaten our citizens,” he said.

Israel has not officially acknowledged conducting the strike earlier this morning. Syria says the attack was carried out by Israeli warplanes over the Mediterranean. The bombardment caused massive secondary explosions at the port, possibly as the Israeli missiles detonated munitions. Fires at the scene lasted for long hours.

Gantz made the comments during a visit to the Ramat David Airbase, which is home to a number of F-16 fighter jet squadrons. He said the air force and other armed branches were “completing a year of significant operational activity.”

“This year too we have acted against threats on various fronts, all of them fueled by Iran, which is the greatest enemy to my nation and to the residents of the Middle East,” Gantz said.

The defense minister called on Syria to stop Iran from operating within its borders, saying the IDF would continue to act as needed to thwart Tehran’s activities.

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, firefighters work at the scene of a missile attack, at the seaport of the coastal city of Latakia, Syria, on December 28, 2021. (SANA via AP)

Firefighters eventually contained a blaze that raged for hours in Syria’s port, officials said.

Syrian officials and state media said the attack caused more damage and the explosion could be heard miles away. Syrian air defenses were activated when the missiles started to fall on the terminal at around 3:20 am, state media reported.

A military official said Israeli missiles were fired from the sea, west of Latakia, hitting the terminal and igniting fires that caused major damage. The unidentified official quoted by the official state news agency SANA said firefighters battled the flames after the attack.

There were no immediate reports of casualties from the missile attack, according to SANA.

Syria’s state-run Al-Ikhbariyah TV ran footage showing flames and smoke rising from the terminal. It later aired images of broken glass and other damage at residential buildings and cars parked in the area near the port. It said a nearby hospital was also impacted.

An Al-Ikhbariyah reporter said Tuesday’s attack could be heard in Tartus, another coastal city more than 80 kilometers (nearly 50 miles) away.

Maj. Mohannad Jafaar, head of the Latakia fire department, said 12 fire trucks worked for hours to contain the fire. He said the containers that were hit held spare auto parts and oil, but there were no casualties. Footage from the area showed large black plumes of smoke over the port as various fires burned around the terminal.

It was the second alleged Israeli strike in Latakia this month.

Port manager Amjad Suleiman told Al-Ikhbariyah the damage was much larger than that caused by the December 7 attack and required a major effort to move intact containers away from the flames.

At the time of the December 7 attack, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitoring group, said the airstrike hit arms shipments destined for Iran-backed fighters.

While the IDF declined to comment then as well, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi later boasted of success in disrupting weapons shipments to Israel’s enemies in the region in a year-end statement issued by the military on Tuesday.

“The increase in the scope of operations over the past year has led to a significant disruption of the movement of weapons into the various arenas by our enemies,” he said. The statement did not elaborate.

In its year-end assessment, the Israeli military confirmed carrying out strikes on dozens of targets in Syria in what it called “the campaign between the wars.” Three targets also were struck in Lebanon, it said. It gave no further details.

It also reported about 100 operations by the Israeli Navy, including dozens of “special operations.” It did not elaborate, but the navy operates in both the Mediterranean and Red seas.

Some past strikes have targeted the main airport in the Syrian capital of Damascus.

Though Israel has regularly conducted raids against Iranian-linked targets in Syria, it rarely strikes close to Latakia, let alone inside the terminal, as the Russian military maintains a base of operations nearby.

Due to its delicate relationship with Moscow, Israel typically refrains from carrying out attacks against targets if there are Russian troops nearby, though Israel believes that this well-known policy has led Iran to seek to protect its arms transfers by conducting them near Russian-controlled areas.

Before this month, the previous time that Israel reportedly conducted a strike on a target in the city of Latakia — though not in the port — was in 2018, during which a Russian spy plane was accidentally shot down by Syrian air defenses, causing a major confrontation between Jerusalem and Moscow. Israel has also reportedly carried out raids against targets in the port city in 2014 and twice in 2013.

Hours after Syrian media accused Israel of striking the port city of Latakia earlier this month, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett alluded to the incident, saying that the military was constantly fighting “bad forces” in the Middle East.

“We’re pushing back on the bad forces of this region day and night,” he said in English. “We won’t stop for one second. This happens almost daily.”

“In the face of destructive forces we will continue to act, we will be persistent, and we will not tire,” Bennett pledged.

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