The head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah on Monday described Israeli airstrikes in Syria — where his terror group and Iran are backing the Damascus regime — as an “imaginary battle” against Iranian troops.
“In Syria there is an imaginary battle that Israel is waging, called ‘not allowing the presence of Iranian military troops in Syria,'” Hassan Nasrallah said during a televised speech, insisting that only “Iranian military advisers and experts,” not fighters, are there.
Israel is targeting “everything related to missile manufacture in Syria,” he continued, asserting that Israel sees such weapons as a danger because they “strengthen Syria and the axis of resistance.”
Israel feels threatened by Iran’s presence in Syria, leading it to “miscalculated adventurism,” Nasrallah said.
He claimed that Defense Minister Naftali Bennett had “foolishly” announced “a schedule for getting Iran out of Syria” and that he was “lying when touting the achievements of the strikes in Syria to the Israeli public.”
The movement of Iranian forces in Syria is not a retreat due to Israeli strikes, he said, adding that “Hezbollah forces and Iranian advisers will remain in Syria according to the Syrian interest. Israeli attacks won’t change this.”
Last week, amid increasing reports of Israeli airstrikes on Iran-linked militias in the country in recent months, defense officials claimed that Iranian forces were pulling out of Syria and closing military bases there.
The Israeli officials refused to comment on specific reported attacks, maintaining the country’s policy of ambiguity of neither confirming nor denying such strikes, with the assumption that public confirmation increases the likelihood of retaliation.
Though Israel’s fight against Iran in Syria has been ongoing for nearly a decade, after Tehran began sending its troops and its proxies into the country at the outbreak of the civil war there in 2011, recent months have seen an increase in the number of strikes against Iran-linked sites in Syria, with the highest concentration around the capital, Damascus.
The Israeli officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that that effort appeared to be bearing fruit as Iranian forces have begun leaving the country, evacuating a small number of military bases previously under their control in the process. Independently, there has also been a drop in the number of Shiite militias operating in Syria, though this decrease is because of the natural progression of the civil war and not because of Israel’s actions.
“We are determined, more determined [than Iran], and I can tell you why — for Iran, Syria is an adventure happening 1,000 kilometers away from home. For us, it’s our lives,” Bennett said on May 5.
An airstrike attributed to Israel last week caused major damage to a presumed missile workshop outside Aleppo in northern Syria, according to satellite images released May 7 by Israeli private intel firm ImageSat International.
On May 4, the Israeli military conducted two rounds of airstrikes on Iran-linked targets in Syria, including one against a weapons factory in al-Safira outside Aleppo and a second against militia bases in Deir Ezzor in the east of the country, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.
Those attacks were the sixth and seventh strikes attributed to Israel against Iran-linked forces in Syria in a period of two weeks.
Despite Israeli claims of driving the Iranians out of Syria, photographs from published Wednesday by ImageSat International showed Iran constructing a new underground weapons storage facility at a Syrian military base under its control near the Iraqi border.
According to the photographs, an excavator and bulldozers have been seen operating within the Imam Ali military base in the al-Bukamal region of Syria, which is believed to be run by Iranian forces.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.