Satellite pictures released on Saturday by an Israeli intelligence site appeared to show the aftermath of an airstrike on an Iranian-run missile production facility in Syria last month, an operation which has been attributed to Israel.
The facility, in Masyaf in northwestern Syria’s Hama province, was previously allegedly used to produce and store chemical weapons. It was run by Dr. Aziz Asbar, a top Syrian chemical weapons and rocket scientist, who was killed earlier this month when his car exploded in Masyaf. A senior official from a Middle East intelligence agency has pointed the finger at Israel’s Mossad for the alleged assassination, according to a New York Times report this week.
According to that report, Israel believed that Asbar was leading a classified weapons development program called Sector 4 at the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, and was busy re-building an underground weapons factory to replace the one said destroyed by Israel last year.
The satellite pictures were released Saturday by the Israeli website Intelli Times, and showed the facility both two days before the alleged attack on July 22 and in its aftermath. The facility was in charge of the production of the Syrian versions of Iran’s Fateh 110 surface-to-surface missiles, which have a range of approximately 200 km, according to the report.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at the time that the strike targeted a “workshop supervised by Iranians where surface-to-surface missiles are made.”
“Iranian forces and forces from Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement are deployed in that sector,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
Israel did not comment on its alleged involvement in the July airstrike on the facility, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement following the raid that Israel “will not stop taking action in Syria against Iran’s attempts to establish a military presence there.”
According to Intelli Times, the facility was one of two centers overseen by Asbar in the area, the second being a local site of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, better known by its French acronym CERS.
Western officials have long associated CERS with the manufacture of chemical arms. According to the United States, sarin gas was being developed at that center, a charge denied by the Syrian authorities.
In September 2017, Syria accused Israel of carrying out a strike on the CERS facility that left two dead. The bombing came after opposition sources claimed that Iranian and Syrian specialists were working there to develop chemical weapons capability for missiles. There was another bombing at the site in December 2017.
Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Israel has sought to avoid direct involvement in the conflict, but has acknowledged carrying out dozens of airstrikes there to stop deliveries of advanced weaponry to its Lebanese enemy Hezbollah.
It has also pledged to prevent Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria; a series of recent strikes that have killed Iranians in Syria have been attributed to Israel.
Suspected Israeli airstrikes over the years have hit Syrian army positions near Damascus and in the central provinces of Homs and Hama. Last month, Israel was said to have carried out an airstrike on the T-4 military base near Homs, thought to be used by IRGC fighters.
In February of this year, the Syrian military shot down an Israeli F-16 fighter jet as it was taking part in a bombing raid against an Iranian-linked airfield in central Syria after an Iranian drone penetrated Israeli airspace, according to the IDF. The F-16’s pilot and navigator were injured as they bailed out of the aircraft, which crashed to ground in northern Israel.
In July, Syrian government forces reached the frontier with the Israeli Golan Heights after capturing territory from rebels and Islamic State fighters. It was the first time government forces had taken up positions along the frontier since the uprising against Bashar Assad swept through the country seven years ago.
With Syrian forces now in close proximity, there have already been clashes between the two armies. Israel has insisted that the Syrian military respect the 1974 ceasefire agreement reached between Jerusalem and Damascus after the previous year’s Yom Kippur War. The agreement limits the forces each side can keep in the border region.
On July 24, a Syrian Sukhoi fighter jet entered Israeli airspace over the Golan Heights, traveling approximately two kilometers (one mile) before it was downed when the IDF fired two Patriot interceptor missiles.
On July 13, the system shot down a Syrian army drone that was flying over the demilitarized zone separating Israel from Syria. Two days earlier, a Syrian military unmanned aerial vehicle penetrated some 10 kilometers (six miles) into Israeli territory before it too was shot down by a Patriot missile. The IDF said it had allowed the drone to fly so deeply into Israeli territory as it was not immediately clear if it belonged to the Russian military.