Syrian air defenses were activated near the T-4 air base in central Syria on Sunday night, in response to an airstrike on the facility, which Syrian state media attributed to the Israeli military.
Syria’s SANA news outlet claimed that the country’s air defenses “damaged one of the attacking aircraft and forced the rest to leave the airspace.” The state mouthpiece also said that the air defenses intercepted a number of incoming missiles aimed at the base.
Defense analysts have noted that Syria regularly makes false claims about its air defenses’ success rates.
On Twitter, the Syrian state news outlet acknowledged that the airstrike caused damage to the T-4 air base, located between the cities of Homs and Palmyra.
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP that the missile bombardment killed an unspecified number of “Iranian and pro-regime fighters” at the T-4 base and was “likely to be Israeli.”
In addition to the Syrian army, Iranian fighters and Lebanese Hezbollah troops are also stationed at the air base, according to the Observatory.
An opposition news site claimed nine fighters allied with the Syrian regime had been killed in the strike. The report could not be confirmed.
#BREAKING: According to 2 #Syria|n military sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, #Israel Air Force destroyed 4 #IRGC targets in #T4/#Tiyas AB:
-UCAV control station
-SAM systems (most probably 3rd Khordad & Tor M1)
-A gathering of #IRGC troops (high casualty is expected) pic.twitter.com/2fkH7Q26LF
— Babak Taghvaee (@BabakTaghvaee) July 8, 2018
As a rule, the Israeli military does not comment on its operations abroad.
Syria’s state TV outlet published a video of a flash in the dark sky, claiming it showed the air defenses responding to the bombardment.
According to Syrian news reports, the air defense fire aimed at the Israeli jets included the launch of Russian-made S-200 anti-aircraft missiles.
Israel has attacked the T-4, or Tiyas, air base on multiple occasions.
Israeli defense officials have claimed the base is being used by Iranian forces as part of the Islamic Republic’s efforts to entrench militarily in Syria, something Israel has vowed to prevent.
For years, Israel has been waging a quiet campaign against Iranian interests in the country. That campaign came to light and began stepping up considerably in February, when an Iranian drone carrying explosives briefly entered Israeli airspace, before it was shot down, Israel says. Simultaneously, Israel launched a counterattack on the T-4 air base, hitting the mobile command center from which the drone had been piloted.
During the aerial bombardment, an Israeli F-16 was shot down by a Syrian S-200 anti-aircraft missile, prompting the air force to launch a second round of strikes, this time against Syria’s air defenses.
In April, Israel attacked the base again in order to destroy a recently delivered Iranian advanced anti-aircraft system, killing at least seven members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including a senior officer, according to Israeli military officials.
Iran immediately vowed revenge, and the Israeli military has set out to thwart those attempts at reprisal by targeting Iranian weapons systems in Syria, in an effort dubbed “Operation Chess.”
Israel has repeatedly stated that it will not allow Iran to set up a permanent military presence in Syria and is prepared to take military action to prevent such a presence. Recent months have also seen the IAF stepping up its efforts to keep Iran from carrying out reprisals against Israel for the April 9 airstrike, according to Israeli officials.
On May 10, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s al-Quds Force launched 32 rockets at Israel’s forward defensive line on the Golan Heights border, Israel said. Four of them were shot down; the rest fell short of Israeli territory. In response, over the next two hours, Israeli jets fired dozens of missiles at Iranian targets in Syria and destroyed a number of Syrian air defense systems.
AFP contributed to this report.