ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 138

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Air defense system said activated near base in Isfahan, Iran

Israel said to shell Hezbollah position in southern Syria, drop threatening flyers

Syrian troops warned to stop cooperating with Iran-backed group after reported artillery strikes; names, photos of senior Syrian officer, Hezbollah member shown on leaflets

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Flashes in the night sky and explosions near the Syrian town of Hader in the Quneitra Governorate, April 24, 2023. (Twitter/screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Flashes in the night sky and explosions near the Syrian town of Hader in the Quneitra Governorate, April 24, 2023. (Twitter/screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The Israeli military shelled a site in southern Syria, just across the border from the Golan Heights, early Monday morning, Syrian media reported, with an opposition journalist claiming the position was used by the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group.

Shortly after the strike, the Israel Defense Forces reportedly dropped threatening pamphlets in the area, warning Syrian soldiers to stop cooperating with Hezbollah.

The early morning artillery strike against a Syrian Army observation post near the Druze town of Hader in the northern Quneitra province was reported by Sham FM, a Syrian radio station affiliated with the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The Arabic-language service of Russian state media network Sputnik, viewed as a propaganda channel, said a Syrian security source acknowledged the attack by the “Israeli aggression,” adding that the damage at the site was being assessed before an official announcement is made.

The state-run SANA news agency, which often reports on strikes attributed to Israel, did not immediately confirm the attack.

No injuries were immediately reported. Short clips circulating on social media showed what appeared to be an artillery shell flying across the night sky.

According to an opposition-affiliated journalist, flyers were dropped in the area, in which the Israeli military appeared to take responsibility for the overnight strike. The IDF usually does not publicly acknowledge carrying out strikes in Syria, under its general policy of ambiguity regarding its efforts against Hezbollah in the country.

The flyers, which were written in Arabic and addressed to Syrian Army soldiers, matched the style of similar leaflets that have been dropped in Syria in the past. The IDF refused to comment on the matter.

“We are closely watching and aware of the ongoing intelligence cooperation with Hezbollah within the Syrian army’s positions in the region, including near the Israeli border. Your cooperation with Hezbollah has… brought you more harm than benefit. Cooperation with Hezbollah leads to harm!” the flyer read.

The flyer also included a map marking the towns of Hader and Quneitra, and images of two men, a senior Syrian officer, alleged to have been aiding Hezbollah, and a senior commander in the Iran-backed group.

The men in the images, apparently taken by military surveillance cameras during a tour of the area, were named as Maj. Gen. Samer ad-Dana, Syria’s chief of military intelligence, and Tariq Maher, the commander of Hezbollah’s intelligence headquarters in Syria.

Separately, Israel’s Kan public broadcaster reported early Monday that Iranian air defense systems were activated near a military base in the city of Isfahan in central Iran.

Unconfirmed reports on social media said anti-aircraft systems were deployed to intercept a suspicious drone near an air base of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

While Israel’s military does not as a rule comment on specific strikes in Syria, it has admitted to conducting hundreds of sorties against Iran-backed groups attempting to gain a foothold in the country, over the last decade. The IDF says it also attacks arms shipments believed to be bound for those groups, chief among them Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy. Additionally, airstrikes attributed to Israel have repeatedly targeted Syrian air defense systems.

The alleged Israeli artillery strikes came days after Israel also reportedly shelled positions belonging to Hezbollah near the Syrian town of Saidah, also in the Quneitra countryside, on Tuesday. Similar threatening pamphlets were dropped in the area following the strike.

The IDF has repeatedly accused Assad’s military of actively assisting Hezbollah and warned it against this, both through flyers dropped along the border and through overt, public appeals, in some cases naming the Syrian and Hezbollah officials involved, including officers from Syria’s 90th Brigade and 1st Division.

Israel appears to have stepped up its activities in Syria recently. Earlier this month, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant warned Iran and Hezbollah that Israel would not tolerate any efforts to harm the country or its citizens after a man was seriously wounded in a Megiddo bomb attack blamed on the Iran-backed organization.

Israel is alleged to have carried out a number of strikes in Syria this month, including one that killed two members of Iran’s IRGC.

After that strike, a suspected Iranian drone launched from Syria was brought down over Israeli airspace.

Several days later, six rockets were launched from southern Syria at the Golan Heights in two separate barrages hours apart, with three landing in Israeli territory, the military said. The IDF responded with artillery strikes in response to the rocket attack.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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