A Lebanese newspaper on Thursday reported that Tuesday’s rocket attack on the Golan Heights from Syria was retaliation for recent Israeli strikes near a soon-to-be-opened border crossing along the Syria-Iraq frontier.
In recent months, construction has picked up around the Albukamal crossing, which Israel fears will be used by Iran to transport weapons, equipment and fighters through Iraq, into Syria and onward to Lebanon and other countries in the region.
A number of Israeli airstrikes have been reported in the Albukamal region in recent months, but the facility nevertheless appears poised to open.
According to the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar, citing Syrian military sources, Israel conducted such a strike eight days ago, bombing a truck that was passing through the area and killing the driver.
5/6 – The Iran-controlled in crossing in #Albukamal, near the official border crossing between #Syria and #Iraq, is not yet operational, and its construction still ongoing.#Iran #IMINT #intelligence #ISI #space #satellite pic.twitter.com/yrzhyP0yW0
— ImageSat Intl. (@ImageSatIntl) November 18, 2019
The Russian Foreign Ministry late Wednesday night also said Israel conducted an attack on Monday, “with the Israeli aircraft reportedly violating the airspace of Iraq and Jordan.”
It was not immediately clear if these were two separate strikes or a discrepancy in the reported date of the same incident. The Israeli military refuses to comment on its airstrikes in Syria, save for those that are in response to attacks.
The Syrian military sources told al-Akhbar that “the enemy is seeking to destroy movement back and forth between Iraq and Syria in order to prevent the resistance axis from benefiting from that.
“The response of firing four rockets is tantamount to a message to the enemy that security in the Albukamal crossing is directly connected to the security of the state,” the Syrian sources said.
They added that the deadly strike on the truck also “demands a response in accordance with the established rules of engagement.”
The four rockets were fired toward northern Israel from Syria early on Tuesday morning; all were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
In response, the IDF launched a series of airstrikes on dozens of Iranian and Syrian military targets in Syria in the predawn hours of Wednesday morning, killing between 10 and 20 fighters, according to a senior Israeli defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The death toll reported by a Syrian civil war monitor was somewhat higher.
On Wednesday night, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Israel’s airstrikes in Syria were “causing serious concern and resentment in Moscow.”
It said Israel fired 40 cruise missiles during its strikes, which were primarily focused on the Syrian capital of Damascus and the surrounding area.
Satellite images released Wednesday night showed the destruction caused by the strikes on two suspected Iranian headquarters around Damascus.
The photographs, distributed by the private Israeli intelligence firm ImageSat International, show two buildings that are believed to have been home to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. One was located in Damascus’s international airport. The other was nearby at the al-Mazzeh airport just outside the capital.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human rights war monitor, at least 23 combatants were killed in Israel’s predawn airstrikes in Syria Wednesday, 16 of them likely Iranians.
The official Syrian news outlet SANA said two civilians were killed by shrapnel when an Israeli missile hit a house in the town of Saasaa, southwest of Damascus. It said several others were wounded, including a girl in a residential building in Qudsaya, also west of the Syrian capital.
However, video footage from Syria appeared to show a Syrian air defense missile failing to launch and crashing to the ground in a heavily populated area shortly after launching, which may account for some of the civilian casualties.
The Israeli defense official disputed the Syrian figures, saying the military believes the death toll in its strikes was between 10 and 20, all of them fighters.
In Israel’s reprisal raids, the top two floors of the building at the Damascus airport — referred to by ImageSat as the Glasshouse — were destroyed.
According to the satellite imagery analysis company, the building was believed to have been used as a headquarters by the Quds Force’s intelligence unit.
“Currently the site looks abandoned, without any sign of activity,” the company said.
The senior defense official said the military believed that there were Iranians inside the building at the time of the strike.
“We struck a building staffed by Iranians at the Damascus airport. We assess that there are Iranians killed and injured,” the official said Wednesday.
The second Quds Force headquarters at the al-Mazzeh airport was almost completely demolished in the strike.
A photograph of the site taken Tuesday showed two large rectangular buildings across from the one another. The image captured Wednesday after the strike showed one building completely leveled and the other mostly knocked down.
A long line of vehicles could also be seen around the site, apparently being used by search and rescue workers.
In addition to those two buildings, the IDF said it targeted dozens of other sites connected to the Quds Force on Syrian military bases. When Syrian air defenses fired on Israeli jets, the IDF also targeted those batteries, the military said.
The Britain-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the airstrikes also targeted Quds Force arms depots in the Damascus suburbs of Kisweh and Qudsaya.
Pictures published by Syrian state news agency SANA showed heavy damage to buildings in Qudsaya, west of the capital.
Israel has repeatedly warned Syrian dictator Bashar Assad to not intervene during IDF strikes on Iranian targets in his country or else his military will also be targeted, as was the case Wednesday.
Following its reprisal raids, the Israeli military said it was readying for a potential Iranian retaliation.
“We are preparing for defense and attack, and we will respond to any attempt to retaliate,” IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman told reporters first thing Wednesday morning.
Israel has repeatedly said that it will not accept Iranian military entrenchment in Syria and that it will retaliate for any attack on the Jewish state from Syria.
Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against Iranian targets over the last several years, but does not generally comment on specific attacks. Iran has forces based in Syria, Israel’s northern neighbor, and supports Hezbollah and Gaza terrorists.
“Our message to the leaders of Iranian is simple: You are not immune anymore. Wherever you send your octopus tentacles — we will hack them off,” said newly installed Defense Minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of the strike: “I have made clear that any who attack us, we will attack them. That is what we did tonight toward military targets of the Iranian Quds Force and Syrian military targets.”
The Quds Force, led by Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, is a part of the Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guards Corps responsible for extraterritorial operations, and is a key actor in Syria — both against rebels and in Tehran’s efforts to entrench itself along Israel’s border and threaten the Jewish state from there.
Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.