A series of airstrikes attributed to Israel that targeted a base belonging to a pro-Iranian Shiite militia in Syria near the border with Iraq on Monday completely destroyed at least eight storehouses in the compound, according to satellite images released by a private Israeli intelligence firm.
The pre-dawn attack caused a great deal of damage to the base, known as the Imam Ali compound, which Israel reportedly believes was a key element in Tehran’s effort to develop a so-called “land bridge” that would allow the Islamic Republic to easily move weapons, fighters, and war materiel from Iran through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
The compound, which is located approximately five kilometers (three miles) from the Iraqi border in Syria’s Albu Kamal region, was first publicly identified as an Iranian-controlled base earlier this month by Fox News, citing unnamed Western intelligence sources.
“If indeed it is an Iranian base, it is probable that the strike is part of the struggle with Tehran to prevent its effort of establishing the land corridor to its allies in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon,” according to the Israeli satellite imagery analysis company ImageSat International.
Pro-Iranian news outlets attributed the bombardment to the Israel Defense Forces. There was no immediate comment from Israel.
Shortly after the strike, members of a Shiite militia in Syria fired a number of rockets toward Mount Hermon on the Israeli Golan Heights from the outskirts of Damascus, according to the Israeli military.
The projectiles fell short of the border and landed inside Syrian territory.
The highly irregular reprisal attack by a pro-Iranian militia appeared to indicate that Tehran saw the strike as a serious blow to its efforts in the region.
According to a Britian-based Syrian war monitor, at least 21 people were killed in the airstrike on the Imam Ali base, which was reportedly constructed under the direction of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force.
The base belonged to the Popular Mobilization Force, an umbrella group of Iraqi Shiite militias, which are funded in large part by Iran.
According to ImageSat, the eight storehouses that were destroyed in the strike appeared to be either newly built or still in the process of being built. Several other structures remained intact following the strike.
The Israeli intelligence firm said that the storehouses appeared to have been holding ammunition and weaponry when they were attacked.
Since mid-July, five arms depots and training camps in Iraq belonging to the Popular Mobilization Forces have been targeted in apparent attacks.
The PMF has blamed both Israel and the US for the recent string of blasts and drone sightings at its bases. Israel has not commented. The Pentagon, which is mindful of not alienating Iraq’s leadership and jeopardizing its military presence in the country, has pointedly distanced itself from the mysterious explosions.
Anonymous US officials recently said the IDF was behind at least some strikes on Iran-linked sites outside of Baghdad.
According to the Fox News report, once completed, the Albu Kamal base could house thousands of soldiers and storage facilities for advanced weapons. The US cable network said the base’s construction is being overseen by the powerful Quds Force and its commander Qassem Soleimani, who are responsible for the IRGC’s activities abroad.
Satellite photos of the base, released by ImageSat International last week, showed what appeared to be five recently constructed buildings that can store precision-guided missiles.
Israel views Iran as its greatest threat, and has acknowledged carrying out scores of airstrikes in Syria in recent years aimed primarily at preventing the transfers of sophisticated weapons, including guided missiles, to the Iran-backed Hezbollah.
The PMF was established in 2014 from mostly Shiite paramilitary groups and volunteers to fight the Islamic State jihadist organization and is now formally part of Iraq’s armed forces.
But the US and Israel fear some units are an extension of Iran and have been equipped with precision-guided missiles that could reach Israel.
Last month, an Israeli airstrike in Syria thwarted what Israel said was a plot by Iran to launch a series of explosives-laden attack drones meant to crash into targets in the country. Iran denied the claims.
Hours later, Israel allegedly struck Iran-linked targets as far away as Iraq and crash-landed two drones in Hezbollah-dominated southern Beirut.
Iran, its allied militias and Russia have backed Syrian President Bashar Assad in the country’s devastating eight-year civil war.
The Syrian conflict, which broke out in 2011 with the bloody repression of anti-regime demonstrations, has become a complex war, dragging in regional and international powers and leaving more than 370,000 people dead.
Times of Israel staff and Agencies contributed to this report.