Satellite captures destruction on Syrian base after alleged Israeli strike

Images show at least 13 buildings hit in air raid that reportedly killed 26 pro-Assad fighters, including Iranians

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

A satellite image showing the results of an alleged Israeli airstrike on a reported Iranian base outside the northern Syrian city of Hama the day before, on April 30, 2018. (ImageSat International ISI)
A satellite image showing the results of an alleged Israeli airstrike on a reported Iranian base outside the northern Syrian city of Hama the day before, on April 30, 2018. (ImageSat International ISI)

An Israeli satellite company on Monday revealed the damage caused to at least 13 buildings on an allegedly Iranian-controlled military base in northern Syria by an airstrike the previous day.

Late Sunday night, explosions were reported at two alleged Iranian facilities in northwestern Syria, one near the city of Hama and the other near Aleppo.

The immediate effects of the Hama strike — a massive fireball — could be seen from kilometers away and registered a 2.6 on the Richter scale on nearby seismographs.

The attack on the weapons depot destroyed some 200 surface-to-surface rockets, a member of the pro-regime coalition told The New York Times.

Former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin noted that the size of the blast indicated the rockets were equipped with powerful explosives.

“It may be ballistic missiles with heavy warheads. The level of explosion that even moved the needle of an earthquake detector is not from the munition that attacked these places, but from the target,” said Amos Yadlin, who directs the influential Institute for National Security Studies think tank.

On Monday night, the Israeli ImageSat company released photographs showing the extent of the damage to the site. At least 13 buildings were hit in the strike on the Hama base, according to the pictures.

The pro-regime official, from the regional alliance of Iran, Syria, Iran and its proxy Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, told the Times that the strikes killed 16 people, including 11 Iranians.

It was a lower casualty count than other sources reported following the strike. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, at least 26 people were killed, the majority of them Iranians. News outlets affiliated with Syrian opposition forces put the death toll at 38.

Iran denied that any of its soldiers were killed in the attacks and that any of its bases in Syria were targeted. It was not clear who carried out the strikes, although some media reports blamed Israel, while others suggested it was a joint US-UK attack launched from Jordan.

A satellite image showing the results of an alleged Israeli airstrike on a reported Iranian base outside the northern Syrian city of Hama the day before, on April 30, 2018. (ImageSat International ISI)

The Observatory said the late Sunday night attacks were “probably” carried out by Israel.

Speaking on condition of anonymity about the attack, the official joined other regional officials in saying that Tehran can be expected to hit back at Israel for the bombing, the Times report said.

However, Iran would likely wait to do so until after May 6 parliamentary elections in neighboring Lebanon, where its ally Hezbollah is fielding candidates, the officials said.

Map locates Aleppo and Hama in Syria, near military outposts that missiles targeted, April 29, 2018. (AP)

There were also no comment from Israel, which rarely confirms or denies its attacks in Syria.

The security cabinet held an unscheduled meeting Monday afternoon, though that likely had more to do with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s presentation on Monday night, in which he unveiled a half-ton’s worth of documents and files that he said were obtained by the Mossad from an Iranian warehouse in Tehran.

The attack came a day after Netanyahu talked to US President Donald Trump on the phone. The White House said the two leaders discussed the continuing threats and challenges facing the Middle East, “especially the problems posed by the Iranian regime’s destabilizing activities.”

On Saturday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also ratcheted up the Trump administration’s rhetoric against Iran and offered warm support to Israel and Saudi Arabia in their standoff with Tehran.

“We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s dangerous escalation of threats to Israel and the region and Iran’s ambition to dominate the Middle East remains,” Pompeo said after a nearly two-hour meeting with Netanyahu.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) is greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on April 29, 2018. (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)

“The United States is with Israel in this fight,” he added on his first trip abroad as America’s top diplomat.

Israel has cited Iran’s hostile rhetoric, support for anti-Israel militant groups and development of ballistic missiles.

Trump has set a May 12 deadline to decide whether to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal — something he appears likely to do despite heavy pressure to stay in from European and other parties.

Tehran has sent thousands of Iran-backed fighters to back Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces in the country’s seven-year civil war, according to Israel.

The Sunday night attack comes amid soaring tensions between Iran and Israel following an airstrike earlier this month on Syria’s T4 air base in central province of Homs that killed seven Iranian military personnel. Tehran has vowed to retaliate for the T4 attack.

Syria, Iran and Russia blamed Israel for that T4 attack. Israel did not confirm or deny it.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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