Israel strikes targets in south Syria — state media

Attack said to hit sites in Golan, around Damascus in latest in a series of airstrikes against Iran-linked targets

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

A Syrian anti-aircraft missile explodes in mid-air, lighting up the night sky near Damascus on November 24, 2020. (SANA)
Illustrative. A Syrian anti-aircraft missile explodes in mid-air, lighting up the night sky near Damascus on November 24, 2020. (SANA)

Israeli airstrikes targeted a number of sites in southern Syria late Wednesday night, the country’s state media reported, in the latest in a series of attacks on Iran-linked facilities attributed to the Jewish state.

According to Syrian media, the attack hit sites on the Syrian Golan Heights and the Damascus International Airport. The al-Arabiya news site reported that a military base housing the Syrian military’s 165th Battalion, which has allegedly been used by Iran to store weapons, was also targeted in the strike.

The Israel Defense Forces refused to comment on the late-night strikes, in accordance with its policy to neither confirm nor deny its operations in Syria, save for those launched in retaliation for an attack from Israel’s northern neighbor.

There were no injuries reported in the strikes but damage was caused, the Syrian state news outlet SANA said.

According to SANA, the Israeli strikes were conducted with both air-to-ground missiles fired by fighter jets and surface-to-surface missiles.

The strikes on the Syrian Golan apparently targeted sites connected to Iran and its ally, the Hezbollah terror group, whom Israel says have set up a base of operations in the area of Quneitra with assistance from the Syrian military, despite the assurances of Syria’s ally Russia that it would keep Iranian forces away from the border. This has been an area of significant concern for the IDF, which has reportedly targeted Hezbollah positions and weapons caches on the Golan many times over the years.

The attacks on the Damascus airport were likely tied to the arrival of at least two Iranian cargo planes Tehran earlier in the day, indicating that the target was Iranian weapons shipments.

The 165th Battalion’s base in the area of el-Kisweh, south of Damascus, has reportedly been targeted by Israel several times in the past.

The strikes began at 10:42 p.m. on Wednesday night, according to SANA.

The Syrian military attempted to intercept the incoming attacks and fired anti-aircraft missiles at the Israeli fighter jets, SANA reported, sharing video footage of the air defenses being fired into the night sky.

Though the state media outlet boasted that the Syrian military intercepted most of the incoming missiles — as it does in almost every Israeli attack — these claims are generally seen as empty boasts by defense analysts. However, video footage from the attack did appear to show at least one successful interception of an incoming missile.

Earlier in the day, the Hezbollah terror group fired anti-aircraft missiles at an Israeli drone that was flying a reconnaissance mission over southern Lebanon. The IDF said the unmanned aerial vehicle was not hit and completed its mission as planned.

Considering the significant amount of planning required for a strike like the one reported on Wednesday night, it was unlikely that the attack was an Israeli response to the anti-aircraft fire earlier in the day.

The IDF has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011 against moves by Iran to establish a permanent military presence in the country and efforts to transport advanced, game-changing weapons to terrorist groups in the region, principally Hezbollah.

Wednesday’s late-night attack came just over a week after Israel reportedly struck a site near the city of Hama in northwestern Syria.

The nature of the target in the attack in the predawn hours of last Friday was not known. Israel has reportedly bombed sites connected to Iran’s alleged missile production and transport efforts in the area of Hama before.

According to the official Syrian state news outlet SANA, a family of four was killed during the bombardment, which it referred to as “Israeli aggression,” and at least three homes were damaged on the outskirts of Hama.

In recent months, the IDF has reportedly stepped up its airstrikes against Iranian-linked targets throughout Syria, believing that Tehran was unlikely to retaliate in a significant way as it hopes to negotiate with US President Joe Biden’s administration.

Biden’s White House is expected to take a more conciliatory approach to Iran than its predecessor on the nuclear issue, but at the same time, Israeli analysts do not anticipate the US president will seek to prevent the Jewish state striking Iranian military targets in Syria.

Israeli officials, including IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, have also issued threats against Iran in recent weeks and warned against the US returning to the nuclear deal.

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