Israeli satellite images show damage to Syrian weapons facility
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Israeli satellite images show damage to Syrian weapons facility

New pictures show impact, geo-strategic sensitivity of airstrike attributed to Israel on an Assad regime site where chemical weapons, missiles said produced

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Israeli satellite images show results of an airstrike attributed to the IDF on a Syrian military weapons development base on September 7, 2017. (ImageSat International)
Israeli satellite images show results of an airstrike attributed to the IDF on a Syrian military weapons development base on September 7, 2017. (ImageSat International)

An Israeli satellite imaging company released photographs on Sunday showing the effects of last week’s airstrike on a Syrian weapons base that was attributed to the Israeli Air Force.

Early Thursday morning, the Syrian military’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (CERS) facility near Masyaf, in the northwestern Hama province, was hit from the air, damaging several buildings and killing two Syrian soldiers.

Western officials have long associated the CERS facility with the production of precision missiles, as well as chemical weapons.

In a statement, Syrian leader Bashar Assad’s military said, “Israeli warplanes fired several rockets from the Lebanese airspace at 02:42 a.m. on Thursday targeting one of the Syrian military posts near Massyaf, killing two army personnel and causing material damage to the site.”

Satellite images, provided by ImageSat International, show the extent of the damage to the site. While the buildings that were hit in the strike still appear to be standing, their roofs are mostly or entirely destroyed and debris can be seen scattered around them.

Israeli satellite images show results of an airstrike attributed to the IDF on a Syrian military weapons development base on September 7, 2017. (ImageSat International)
Israeli satellite images show a Syrian military weapons development base before it was hit by an airstrike attributed to the IDF on on September 7, 2017. (ImageSat International)
Israeli satellite images show results of an airstrike attributed to the IDF on a Syrian military weapons development base on September 7, 2017. (ImageSat International)

An additional satellite photograph showed the base’s proximity to an alleged Iran-backed missile production facility and a Russian S-400 missile defense system.

Israeli satellite images show locations of a suspected Iran-backed missile production facility in Syria, a Russian S-400 missile defense system, and a Syrian military weapons development base that was hit in an airstrike attributed to the IDF on September 7, 2017. (ImageSat International)

Over the past five years, Israel has carried out dozens of airstrikes within Syria, though it rarely acknowledges specific attacks.

Israel says it maintains a hands-off policy toward the Syrian civil war, only getting involved when one of its “red lines” is transgressed.

These “red lines” include the violation of Israeli sovereignty through deliberate or accidental attacks, Iranian-supported militias taking positions on the Golan border, and attempts to transfer advanced weapons to the Hezbollah terrorist group.

Though Israel has not confirmed its involvement in the Thursday morning airstrike, analysts believe the attack on the Syrian military facility was carried out in order to prevent precision-guided missiles from reaching Hezbollah’s hands.

Israeli satellite images show results of an airstrike attributed to the IDF on a Syrian military weapons development base on September 7, 2017. (ImageSat International)

Syrian opposition forces have in recent months claimed the Masyaf site, and other CERS facilities, have been working on a joint projects with Iranian specialists to develop chemical weapons capability for missiles.

Israeli satellite images show results of an airstrike attributed to the IDF on a Syrian military weapons development base on September 7, 2017. (ImageSat International)

In April the Trump administration placed sanctions on hundreds of CERS employees following a chemical attack on the Syrian rebel-held city of Khan Sheikhoun that killed dozens of civilians, including children. On Wednesday, a report by a UN war crimes commission said it had clear evidence that the Syrian regime was behind the attack and that it had used sarin nerve gas.

In 2005, then US president George W. Bush placed sanction on CERS, alleging it was producing weapons of mass destruction.

Five years later, in September 2010, the director of the Israeli National Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau said that CERS facilities would be destroyed if the agency continued to provide weapons to terror groups.

This frame grab from video provided on Tuesday April 4, 2017, by Qasioun News Agency, shows a Syrian man carrying a man on his back who has suffered from a suspected chemical attack, in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province, Syria (Qasioun News Agency, via AP)

Brig.-Gen. (res) Nitzan Nuriel, speaking at a summit at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, said CERS was providing weapons to Hezbollah and the Palestinian terror group Hamas, and called on the international community to target it if it didn’t end its support for terrorism.

In February 2013, US intelligence officials told The New York Times that an alleged Israeli airstrike on a Lebanon-bound convoy carrying advanced anti-aircraft weapons days earlier may have inadvertently hit the central CERS research center for developing chemical and biological weapons.

Israel has for years been widely believed to have carried out airstrikes on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles — as well as Hezbollah positions.

In August a former commander of Israel’s air force said that it had carried out dozens of airstrikes on weapons convoys destined for the Hezbollah over the past five years. The remarks by Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel revealed for the first time the scale of the strikes, which are usually neither confirmed nor denied by the IAF.

Before and after satellite images of the Syrian nuclear reactor at al-Kibar, which was reportedly struck by Israel in 2007 (AP/DigitalGlobe)
Before and after satellite images of the Syrian nuclear reactor at al-Kibar, which was reportedly struck by Israel in 2007 (AP/DigitalGlobe)

The most famous Israeli strike in Syria took place almost exactly 10 years ago, on September 6, 2007, when IAF aircraft bombed a suspected nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor.

Hezbollah fired more than 4,000 rockets on Israeli communities during its latest war with Israel in 2006. Since Tuesday, tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers have been staging a mock 10-day war against Hezbollah in northern Israel, marking the IDF’s largest exercise in nearly 20 years, the army announced Monday, amid tensions over growing Iranian influence in Syria and Lebanon.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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