Israel said to hit Hezbollah weapons depot near Damascus

Israel said to hit Hezbollah weapons depot near Damascus

The reported attack follows an alleged Israeli airstrike on a Syrian military base last week

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Illustrative photo of an Israeli F-15 fighter jet. (Tsahi Ben-Ami/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of an Israeli F-15 fighter jet. (Tsahi Ben-Ami/Flash90)

Israel carried out airstrikes at a military airport near Damascus Tuesday night, possibly hitting a weapons depot belonging to the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, according to unconfirmed Syrian opposition reports.

There was no immediate reaction from official Syrian or Israeli sources.

According to the reports, the airstrikes targeted the Mezzeh Military Airport southwest of Damascus.

Last week the Syrian military said that Israel had conducted airstrikes on a military base in the city of al-Qutayfah, outside Damascus, reportedly on a weapons depot containing long-range missiles.

“We have a longstanding policy to prevent the transfer of game-changing weapons to Hezbollah in Syrian territory. This policy has not changed. We back it up, if necessary, with action,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last Tuesday at an event with NATO officials in Jerusalem.

Senior Israeli ministers and defense officials have reportedly been recently holding high-level talks about the situation in Syria and Lebanon, specifically regarding Iranian entrenchment in the region. Iran is the key backer of Hezbollah.

“The Middle East is raging around us, and what concerns us the most are Iranian efforts to establish military bases in Syria,” Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told Army Radio last week after being asked about reports that the high-level security cabinet has been holding a series of “extremely significant” meetings on the threats from the northern border.

Last month, Israel allegedly fired missiles at a suspected Iranian base in Syria, reportedly killing 12 Iranian military personnel and destroying several buildings.

A satellite image showing the results of an alleged Israeli airstrike on a reported Iranian base being set up outside Damascus, from December 4, 2017. (ImageSat International ISI)

Israel has been negotiating with the United States and Russia, the main brokers in Syria, to keep Hezbollah and other Iran-backed Shiite militias away from the border.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and others have all said that Israel’s policy is to target shipments of advanced weaponry, including accurate long-range missiles, that are heading to or in the possession of Hezbollah.

Last week, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said the most serious immediate threat to Israel was posed by Hezbollah, followed by other jihadist groups supported by Tehran positioned on the Syrian border.

Describing Iran as a “multidimensional threat,” the army chief said the most worrying aspect is the Islamic Republic’s desire to obtain nuclear capabilities, followed by its efforts to achieve hegemony in the region.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot speaks at a conference at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya on January 2, 2018. (Adi Cohen Zedek)

He noted the over $1 billion that the country invests in its proxies in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and — increasingly — Palestinian terrorist groups in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

According to Eisenkot, each year Iran sends between $700 million and $1 billion to Hezbollah each year, $100 million each to Shiite militias in Syria, Shiite militias in Iraq, rebels in Yemen and to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas terrorist groups.

The army chief did not provide the source for those figures.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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