A pair of airstrikes against Iran-backed forces in Syria earlier this month that were attributed to Israel targeted a warehouse outside of Palmyra and the entrance to an underground facility near Damascus, according to satellite images released by an private Israeli intelligence firm Thursday.
Jerusalem has never officially acknowledged conducting the strikes, though Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has hinted at Israel’s involvement, repeatedly commenting that the military was working to force out Iran from Syria.
On April 20, Syria accused Israel of conducting an airstrike on a target near Palmyra. Nine pro-regime fighters were reportedly killed in the attack, three of them from the Syrian army and six foreigners, including Hezbollah members, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.
A week later, the Israeli military was accused of carrying out another attack, on the Mezzeh military airfield outside Damascus. Four pro-Iranian fighters were killed in that strike, according to the Observatory. Three Syrian civilians were also reportedly killed by shrapnel, though it was not clear if the fragments came from the incoming missiles or Syria’s air defenses.
According to the satellite imagery analysis company ImageSat International, the target of the first strike outside Palmyra was a warehouse. Before-and-after photographs from the site show that half of the structure was flattened in the missile attack.
The private intelligence firm assessed that the second attack targeted the entrance to an underground facility controlled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ expeditionary Quds Force, the branch of Tehran’s military that works closely with Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies against Israel.
The company’s satellite images also showed that reconstruction was continuing on a command center that was destroyed in an airstrike, also attributed to Israel, in November.
On Tuesday, a day after the second strike, Bennett appeared to hint that Israel was behind it.
“We have moved from blocking Iran’s entrenchment in Syria to forcing it out of there, and we will not stop,” he said in a statement.
“We will not allow more strategic threats to grow just across our borders without taking action,” Bennett said. “We will continue to take the fight to the enemy’s territory.”
A day before the strike, the defense minister also seemed to signal that an airstrike against Iranian forces in Syria was forthcoming, telling listeners in an interview on the 103FM radio station on Sunday to “keep your ears open” for news about such actions.
“We’ve gone from a policy of blocking [Iran] to pushing it out,” Bennett added in that interview.
Israeli military officials have repeatedly warned that acknowledging such airstrikes adds pressure on Iran and its proxies to retaliate in order to save face.
Jerusalem says Iran’s presence in Syria, where it is fighting in support of President Bashar Assad, is a threat, as Tehran seeks to establish a permanent foothold along Israel’s northern borders.
Israel has also threatened to take military action to prevent Iran from providing the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group with advanced weaponry, specifically precision-guided missiles.
Though Israeli officials generally refrain from taking responsibility for specific strikes in Syria, they have acknowledged conducting hundreds to thousands of raids in the country since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
These have overwhelmingly been directed against Iran and its proxies, notably Hezbollah, but the IDF has also carried out strikes on Syrian air defenses when those batteries have fired at Israeli jets.
On April 15, a car driven by several Hezbollah operatives was targeted in a strike attributed to Israel as it made its way from Syria toward Lebanon. The passengers in the vehicle escaped after an apparent warning shot was fired next to the car.