Hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed Sunday that Israel bombed an Iranian weapons depot in Syria, satellite photos were published showing what appeared to be the demolished storehouse at the Damascus International Airport.
At the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said Israel was behind the Friday evening airstrike in Syria, a rare acknowledgement of such a raid.
“The Israel Defense Forces has attacked hundreds of Iranian and Hezbollah targets,” he said. “Just in the past 36 hours, the air force attacked Iranian depots full of Iranian weapons in the Damascus International Airport.”
Israel typically refrains from commenting on individual airstrikes in Syria, but does generally acknowledge that it carries out raids against Iranian- and Hezbollah-linked targets in the country.
On Sunday evening, Israeli website Intelli Times published photos showing the devastation at the site, saying the same structure had been struck in 2016 after it was identified as a depot housing M-600 surface-to-surface missiles, the Syrian version of the Iranian-made Fateh-110 missiles.
The intelligence blog said the building had been restored later that year, but was now completely destroyed.
It published side-by-side satellite photos, saying one was taken on Friday — where the building can be seen — and the other was taken on Sunday, with the building gone.
On Saturday, Intelli Times reported that hours before the Israeli strike, an Iranian Boeing 747 cargo plane had landed at the airport and unloaded its cargo at a site previously targeted three times by Israel. The aircraft then returned to Iran through Iraqi airspace.
תיעוד לווייני של ש.ת. הבינלאומי מצביע על כך שבצהרי ה-11.1 (יום שישי) פרק ברחבת מטוסי ה-C-130 שממול למסופי המטען בש.ת. בדמשק, מטוס מטען איראני מדגם 747. המטוס נצפה חוזר לטהראן בעת שעבר במרחב האווירי של עיראק. המתחם בשדה כבר חווה בעבר 3 תקיפות שנועדו לסכל הברחות טילים מאיראן. pic.twitter.com/TQUC6Pmcgh
— אינטלי טיימס – מודיעין חדשותי (@IntelliTimes) January 12, 2019
On Friday, the official news agency SANA reported that Syrian air defense batteries opened fire on “hostile Israel missiles” and intercepted “most” of them, a common claim of the Syrian military, which many defense analysts believe to be false or overstated.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said that “two areas hosting military positions of Iranian forces and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement have been targeted.”
The sites were near the airport and around the Kisweh area south of Damascus, the observatory said.
A Syrian military source said on Friday that a “ministry of transport warehouse at Damascus International Airport” was targeted in the air raid. Another official told SANA that traffic at the airport had not been disrupted.
After Netanyahu confirmed the Israeli strike on Sunday, he repeated the admission during a tour of the northern border with Lebanon.
“This reflects our consistent policy and firm determination to prevent Iran’s military buildup in Syria, and if necessary we will also intensify these attacks,” Netanyahu said. “We will continue to monitor all the activities of Hezbollah and Iran and its proxies, and we will do what is necessary to ensure Israel’s security.”
Several members of the security cabinet were reportedly frustrated with the prime minister’s public announcement that Israel was responsible for the airstrike in Syria.
Anonymous officials told the Kan public broadcaster that Netanyahu’s decision to break with traditional Israeli policy of not publicly discussing such strikes was “dangerous” and could unnecessarily provoke both Russia and Syria.
Israel in recent years has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against targets linked to Iran, which alongside its proxies and Russia is fighting on behalf of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The previous reported airstrike occurred on Christmas Day. On that occasion, a Syrian anti-aircraft missile flew into Israeli airspace, and was destroyed by Israeli air defenses.
Israel has accused Iran of seeking to establish a military presence in Syria that could threaten Israeli security and attempting to transfer advanced weaponry to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.
Judah Ari Gross and AFP contributed to this report.