Strikes attributed to Israel hit Iran-linked defense labs, Shiite militia bases

Monitor says buildings attacked near Aleppo were depots run by pro-Iranian forces; additional attacks reported in Deir Ezzor against Iran-backed militias

Illustrative: A Syrian anti-aircraft missile fired over Damascus on April 27, 2020 (screencapture/Twitter)
Illustrative: A Syrian anti-aircraft missile fired over Damascus on April 27, 2020 (screencapture/Twitter)

Airstrikes presumed to be Israeli targeted Iran-linked arms warehouses east of Aleppo in northern Syria and militia bases in Deir Ezzor in the east of the country late Monday night, a Syrian war monitor said.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor, the sites in Aleppo that were hit were weapons storehouses run by Iranian forces and Iran-backed militias adjacent to Syrian defense laboratories.

The raids caused “violent explosions” in the area, according to the Britain-based monitor.

Further strikes were reported near the town of el-Mayadeen in the Deir Ezzor region, according to the Observatory. Though it was not immediately clear who was responsible for the Deir Ezzor attack, the war monitor said it was “likely” to have been Israel.

Monday night’s attacks appeared to be the sixth and seventh strikes attributed to Israel against Iran-linked forces in Syria in the past two weeks. There was no immediate comment from the Israel Defense Forces, which rarely comments on individual cross-border raids.

It was not immediately clear if there were casualties in the raids.

Citing a military source, Syrian state media outlet SANA reported that the attack outside Aleppo targeted several “military depots” in the al-Safira area southeast of the city.

“Syrian air defenses intercept an Israeli aggression on a research center in Aleppo province,” SANA reported.

The defense laboratory is believed by Western intelligence services to be used in the development of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime with help from Iran.

The official Syrian news outlet said that several of the incoming missiles were intercepted by the country’s air defenses. Security analysts generally see these claims as exaggerated if not outright fabrications.

A Syrian security official told the Kremlin-backed Sputnik news outlet that the Israeli aircraft that conducted the Aleppo attack came from the al-Tanf region of Syria, which is under the control of the United States military.

Western intelligence officials told the Reuters news agency that Iran-backed militias have established a number of bases and headquarters in the Aleppo area, as well as warehouses for storing advanced munitions.

The reports of the Monday night strikes came days after Israel bombed a munitions warehouse in central Syria on Friday morning in a rare daylight strike that sparked a massive explosion, according to reports from Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the arms cache that was bombed on Friday morning was located outside Homs and contained missiles and ammunition belonging to the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group.

Damascus officially denied that Israel was responsible for the explosion, saying it was the result of “human error” while transporting munitions, Syrian state media outlet SANA reported. This was widely seen by defense analysts as an attempt to cover up yet another Israeli strike on Syrian soil.

According to Syrian media, the attack triggered huge secondary explosions, apparently as the munitions inside the warehouse detonated. SANA reported that at least 10 people were wounded in the blasts.

Damage caused to a street from secondary explosions after an alleged Israeli attack on a Hezbollah arms cache near Homs in central Syria on May 1, 2020. (Syrian state media SANA)

Photographs and videos from the scene showed massive damage to the surrounding area as shells and other munitions inside the warehouse were set off by the explosion.

The Friday morning attack, which would be a highly irregular though not unprecedented daytime strike, came less than a day after a reported attack by Israel against pro-Iranian forces in southern Syria and followed a series of strikes on Iran-linked forces in Syria in recent weeks.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett last Tuesday appeared to confirm that Israel was responsible for attacks against pro-Iranian forces in Syria, saying that the military was working to drive Tehran out of the country.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett of Yamina in the plenum hall of the Knesset on February 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We have moved from blocking Iran’s entrenchment in Syria to forcing it out of there, and we will not stop,” Bennett said in a statement.

“We will not allow more strategic threats to grow just across our borders without taking action,” he said. “We will continue to take the fight to the enemy’s territory.”

An airstrike last Monday on a military airfield outside Damascus killed four pro-Iranian fighters, according to the Observatory for Human Rights. Three Syrian civilians were also reportedly killed by shrapnel, though it was not clear if the fragments came from the incoming missiles or Syria’s air defenses.

The Observatory said a number of Iranian-linked command centers were destroyed in the attack. A private Israeli intelligence firm on Thursday released images showing the aftermath of the airstrike, which targeted a warehouse outside of Palmyra and the entrance to an underground facility near Damascus, according to the satellite images.

Bennett did not explicitly confirm Israel’s involvement in that airstrike, though his comments were seen as a clear hint to that effect.

Israeli military officials have warned that acknowledging such strikes adds pressure on Iran and its proxies to retaliate in order to save face.

Jerusalem says Iran’s presence in Syria, where it is fighting in support of President Bashar Assad, is a threat, as Tehran seeks to establish a permanent foothold along Israel’s northern borders. Israel has also threatened to take military action to prevent Iran from providing the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group with advanced weaponry, specifically precision-guided missiles.

Though Israeli officials generally refrain from taking responsibility for specific strikes in Syria, they have acknowledged conducting hundreds to thousands of raids in the country since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

These have overwhelmingly been directed against Iran and its proxies, notably Hezbollah, but the Israel Defense Forces has also carried out strikes on Syrian air defenses when those batteries have fired at Israeli jets.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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