Intel firm: Strikes on Syrian airfields halted Iran’s ability to transport arms

Satellite images show damage caused by reported Israeli attacks on Damascus airport and T-4 air base, both tied to Tehran’s efforts to bring weapons into the country

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

The results of a reported Israeli airstrike on the Damascus International Airport on August 31, 2020. (ImageSat International)
The results of a reported Israeli airstrike on the Damascus International Airport on August 31, 2020. (ImageSat International)

A private Israeli intelligence firm has released satellite photographs of the aftermath of reported Israeli airstrikes on Iran-linked sites in Syria earlier in the week, saying the photos indicate the attacks targeted Tehran’s ability to bring in and store weapons in the country.

According to the satellite imagery company ImageSat International, a strike on Monday night destroyed a command center and a warehouse at the Damascus International Airport and another two days later targeted an airstrip in the T-4 airbase in eastern Syria. Israel has long maintained that both airfields are used by Iran to bring munitions into Syria.

The firm, which often tracks reported Israeli airstrikes on targets in Syria, said the attacks likely interrupted Iran’s efforts to transport an advanced weapons system into the country.

The Israel Defense Forces has not commented on the strikes, in accordance with a long-standing military policy of ambiguity around its alleged activities in Syria.

According to ImageSat, the strikes “intended to tactically undermine shipments of advanced weapons systems from Iran.”

In addition, the firm said it assessed that the attacks had a secondary goal.

“The bombings send a strategic message to Tehran and the [Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’] Quds Force, warning [against] their continued activity in Syria,” it said.

he results of a reported Israeli airstrike on the Damascus International Airport on August 31, 2020. (ImageSat International)

The two recent strikes came after a lull in reported Israeli airstrikes in Syria, following an attack attributed to Israel on Damascus airport on July 20. That attack saw a Hezbollah fighter killed, setting off an ongoing period of heightened tensions along the Israeli-Lebanese border as the terror group vowed to avenge the fallen operative.

On Monday night, Syrian state media reported that Israel had conducted airstrikes on targets south of Damascus, killing at least two soldiers. A Syrian civilian woman was also killed, reportedly after a Syrian military anti-aircraft missile struck her home.

According to the photographs released by ImageSat, among the targets of the airstrike was Damascus International Airport. The attack destroyed a command center and a nearby warehouse.

“The attack targeted Iranian air-shipping coordination and administrative capabilities, as well as advanced weapon storing capacity,” the firm said, noting that the area had also been attacked in February.

This photo released by on September 3, 2020 shows the results of reported Israeli airstrikes on the T-4 air base in eastern Syria the day before. (ImageSat International)

On Wednesday night, Syrian state media reported that Israel had conducted another round of strikes on the T-4 airbase, also known as the Tiyas airbase, causing damage but no injuries.

The firm’s images of the site of the attack, taken Thursday, showed that the airfield’s runway and apron — the area where planes are loaded and unloaded — sustained significant damage, rendering them unusable.

“The bombing hit the runway and an apron and resulted in a temporary lockout of the airport’s operation,” ImageSat said.

A Syrian surface-to-air missile explodes in the sky over southern Syria on August 31, 2020. (SANA)

The firm said the purpose of the strike was therefore likely to have been preventing a specific shipment from Tehran.

In July, Iran agreed to provide advanced anti-aircraft batteries to Syria, a potential cause for concern in Israel, which seeks to maintain aerial superiority in the region.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Thursday said the Wednesday night attack also targeted sites outside the cities of Mayadeen and Bukamal, areas that have long been suspected of having an Iranian presence. According to the Observatory, 16 “Iraqi paramilitary fighters loyal to Iran” were killed in the strikes.

Neither Syrian state media SANA nor other outlets in the country reported strikes in those areas on Wednesday night, and The Times of Israel could not independently verify the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’ claims.

The mobile command center from which Israel says an Iranian operator flew a drone from Syria into Israeli airspace on February 10, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israeli military has long maintained that the T-4 base is used by Iran to move weapons throughout the region, including to the powerful Hezbollah terror group, and to conduct its own operations. In February 2018, the IDF said Iranian forces based there piloted an armed drone into Israeli airspace before it was shot down by an Israeli helicopter. At the time, the IDF bombed the command-and-control structure from which the drone was operated at the T-4 base.

Israel has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011. It has targeted government troops, allied Iranian forces, and fighters from the Lebanese Shiite terror group, Hezbollah.

Israel rarely confirms details of its operations in the country, but generally acknowledges taking action against Iran’s efforts to build up a permanent military presence in Syria, and its attempts to transfer weapons to Hezbollah and other terror groups in the region.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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