Israeli intel firm: Alleged IDF strike on Syrian base targeted Iranian drones

Satellite image analysis company ImageSat says attack attributed to Israel seems to have been pinpoint airstrike, targeting a small number of recently arrived components from Iran

Satellite photos released by ImageSat International shows the aftermath of an airstrike attributed to Israel that targeted the Syrian T-4 air base near Palmyra on June 2, 2019. (ImageSat International)
Satellite photos released by ImageSat International shows the aftermath of an airstrike attributed to Israel that targeted the Syrian T-4 air base near Palmyra on June 2, 2019. (ImageSat International)

An Israeli satellite imagery analysis firm on Tuesday determined that the target of an airstrike on a Syrian air base earlier this week, which was attributed to Israel, appeared to be an Iranian drone facility.

According to the company, ImageSat International, the attack late Sunday night appeared to be a pinpoint strike, targeting “one element or just a few elements” connected to Tehran’s unmanned aerial vehicle program in Syria, indicating that the components were of “particular importance.”

This assessment was based on satellite images of the targeted facility, the T-4 air base near Palmyra, from Tuesday. Comparing these photographs to ones from May 22, the private intelligence firm determined that the strike hit a small crop of buildings on the base.

The firm said that a number of cargo planes had recently landed at the base from Iran prior to the strike, indicating that they had delivered the equipment that was targeted.

“According to our assessment, it is reasonable that [the target] was a component [or components] connected to [Iran’s] UAV program,” ImageSat said in a statement.

Explosions on the T-4 base in northern Syria reportedly caused by an Israeli airstrike on June 2, 2019 (Screencapture/Twitter)

Syrian state media said that Israel was behind the attack late Sunday night on the T-4 air base, which the Israel Defense Forces has bombed in the past and which Jerusalem has long claimed to be a facility used by Iran and its proxies.

In February 2018, the IDF bombed the T-4 air base after it said an Iranian soldier piloted an armed drone from there into Israeli airspace before it was shot down by an IDF helicopter.

The Israeli military refused to comment on Sunday’s strike. Israel generally acknowledges conducting operations in Syria, but refuses to take responsibility for particular attacks, with the exception of retaliatory strikes in response to attacks from Syria, as occurred on Saturday night.

Syrian military officials told the state media outlet SANA that the attack on the T-4 air base targeted and destroyed a weapons storage facility and several other buildings at the base.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported five people were killed, including one Syrian soldier. It said the attack also destroyed a rocket warehouse.

The attack came a day after the IDF carried out airstrikes on several military targets in Syria in the predawn hours of Sunday morning, reportedly killing 10 in response to two rockets that were fired from the country at the Golan Heights the night before.

Israeli defense officials have previously 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.

An IDF airstrike hits Syrian military targets, June 1, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Beginning at 4:10 a.m. Sunday, IDF helicopters and planes attacked several targets connected to the Syrian army, including two artillery batteries, several observation and intelligence outposts, and an SA-2 type air defense unit, the army said in its statement.

Syrian media reported that Israel also struck several targets connected to Iran and its proxy militias in Syria, in the area of al-Kiswah, south of Damascus.

The strikes reportedly targeted weapons caches and a military training facility. Seven “foreign fighters” were among the 10 killed by the strikes, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor group.

The Israeli army refrained from specifying who it believes fired the two rockets at the Golan Heights — one of which landed inside Israeli territory, the other in Syria — but said it “sees the Syrian regime as responsible for all attacks against Israel from Syrian territory.”

Illustrative: A photo released by Iranian media reportedly shows the T-4 air base in central Syria after a missile barrage attributed to Israel on April 9, 2018. (Iranian media)

Saturday night’s rockets appeared to be a relatively long-range variety, reportedly fired from the Damascus area, some 35 kilometers (22 miles) away, similar to an attack earlier this year aimed at Mount Hermon.

Speaking Sunday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Iran that Israel’s airstrikes on Syria earlier in the day showed that, when assaulted, the Jewish state hits back hard.

Speaking at a ceremony for Jerusalem Day, when Israel marks the unification of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War, Netanyahu said that in the decades since that conflict many moderate Arab states have “sobered up” regarding their attitudes toward Israel, which they now see as an ally against Iran.

“While we do not make light of Iran’s threats, neither are we deterred by them because anyone who tries to hurt us will be hurt far worse,” Netanyahu said at the ceremony at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, the location of a key battle during the war. “We have proven this many times in the history of our state. We proved it just last night.”

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