Israeli missiles said to hit Iranian military base being built near Damascus

Media reports say target struck by IAF was facility 50 kilometers from Israeli border which was revealed in satellite pictures three weeks ago

Illustrative photo of an IAF F-16 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of an IAF F-16 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit/Flash90)

Israel fired missiles at a military base Iran has been building near the Syrian city of ​​al-Qiswa, southwest of Damascus, reportedly destroying an arms depot, according to numerous Arab media reports overnight Friday-Saturday.

Some media outlets affiliated with the Assad regime and Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah initially reported that Israeli warplanes targeted an ammunition bunker belonging to the Syrian Army. But other media outlets, widely quoted in Hebrew media on Saturday evening, reported that the target was a military base that Iran is building in the area, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the Israeli border, and that loud explosions were heard after the attack.

The reports added that Israel fired five missiles. Syrian state media said its air defenses intercepted at least two Israeli missiles fired at a government “military position” in Damascus province, but that the attack still caused damage.

A Sky News Arabic report said that the missiles were fired from within Lebanese airspace.

There was no immediate official Israeli comment.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said missiles, presumably Israeli, targeted “positions of the Syrian regime and its allies” southwest of Damascus, destroying “an arms depot.” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said it was not immediately clear whether the warehouse was operated by the Syrian army, Iran or Hezbollah.

“At half past midnight [2230 GMT Friday], the Israeli enemy fired several surface-to-surface missiles at a military position in Damascus province,” Syria’s state SANA news agency reported. “The air defenses of the Syrian army were able to deal with the attack… destroying two of the missiles,” it said, adding that the attack nonetheless caused “material damage.”

The alleged Israeli attack came three weeks after the BBC reported that Iran was building a permanent military base in Syria just south of Damascus. The British broadcaster commissioned a series of satellite pictures that showed widespread construction at the site.

Satellite image of alleged Iranian base in Syria from October 2017 (Airbus, Digital Globe and McKenzie Intelligence Services/BBC)

Israel has long warned that Iran is trying to establish a permanent presence in Syria as part of its efforts to control a land corridor from Iran through to the Mediterranean Sea as it attempts to expand its influence across the Middle East. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said often that Israel will not allow Iran to establish a permanent presence in Syria, and was reported last week to have sent a warning to this effect via a third party to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

In November, the IDF’s Patriot missile defense system shot down a drone above the Golan Heights, near the border with Syria.

Israeli security officials said the drone’s operators had deliberately attempted to fly the aircraft across the Israeli border from Syria, but it was shot down without crossing into Israel.

The IDF later concluded that the aircraft belonged to Assad’s regime.

A month before that, the IDF fired into Syria, hitting three rocket launchers, in response to earlier rocket fire, and warned that further fire would prompt a more intensive response.

Earlier that month, the Syrian army launched an interceptor missile at Israeli Air Force reconnaissance aircraft, which the IDF says were flying over Lebanon. In response, Israel sent out a second sortie of F-16 fighter jets to bomb an anti-aircraft battery that it believed launched the missile.

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