Warplanes said to strike Iranian base in Syria after visit by IRGC head
Monitor says Israel likely behind raid on Al-Bukamal area which left at least six dead; Iran website removes story about trip there by Esmail Ghaani
Unidentified aircraft bombed Iran-backed forces in Syria near an Iraqi border crossing known as a key weapons conduit, a war monitor said Saturday.
Four Syrian nationals were among six people killed in the raids on sites near al-Abbas village, in the Al-Bukamal region east of Deir Ezzor, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It said the raids targeted Iranian sites and allied militias.
It was not immediately clear if the Syrian nationals were soldiers with the Syrian army.
The war monitor did not confirm who was behind the attack but said Israel was “likely responsible.”
There were no claims of responsibility.
The reported strike came hours after semi-official media in Iran reported that Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps head Esmail Ghaani had visited Iranian troops in the area and had spoken out against Israel and the US.
The report in Iran’s Tasnim news agency, seen as closely linked to the IRGC, was since removed without explanation, and other Iranian sites did not mention the visit of Ghaani, who took over as the head of the hard-line paramilitary force earlier this year following the assassination of Qassem Soleimani.
During the visit, Ghaani accused Israel and the US of propping up the Islamic State terror group, according to Reuters, which cited the original Tasnim report.
#Iran state media are reporting Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force chief Esmail Ghaani recently visited Albu Kamal in east #Syria.
Images from the Tasnim news agency pic.twitter.com/y8ZweJZNL7
— Heshmat Alavi (@HeshmatAlavi) June 27, 2020
There was no immediate confirmation of the attack from Israeli or Syrian sources.
In May, private Israeli satellite imagery analysis firm ImageSat International released photos it said showed that Iran was constructing a new underground weapons storage facility at the Imam Ali base in the al-Bukamal region of Syria, which is believed to be run by Iranian forces.
“The tunnel is fit to be used as a shelter and storage for trucks and vehicles, including vehicles carrying advanced missile weapon systems,” ImageSat said in its assessment.
It is the second such subterranean tunnel to be constructed at the base, which is located a few kilometers from the Iraqi border.
According to the image analysis company, such tunnels are likely meant to store Iranian missiles en route to Tehran’s proxies throughout the region.
The base has been the site of several Israeli airstrikes in the past year.
The al-Bukamal region in Syria is seen as critical to Tehran’s effort to establish a land corridor from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, and out to the Mediterranean Sea in order to more easily move weapons and fighters throughout the Middle East.
Israel has vowed to prevent Iran from establishing a military presence in Syria.
Though it does not generally comment on specific attacks, Israel has generally acknowledged carrying out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against Iranian targets over the last several years, both to prevent Tehran from turning Syria into a forward-operating base in its war against Israel and to keep the Islamic Republic from transferring advanced weaponry to the Hezbollah terror group and other proxies in the region.
On Friday, the Observatory said Israel had carried out strikes earlier in the week against Iranian and Syrian forces in several regions throughout Syria. At least seven people were killed, including two Syrian soldiers and five pro-Iranian militia members, state news agency SANA and the Britain-based Observatory said.
ولسا قلبي ما برد مبارح اسرائيل ضربت معمل بصل كلو ذخائر بحماه /السلميه
يعني فوق مو مخزين اسلحة لعند ربنا بمنطقه سكنية ابصر مين عاطين احداثيات الموقع والله … تسمعي صوات الولاد والصياح والدنيا عم ترج
مو احري بهيك عيشة
كل الليل تمرق سيارة اتقفط وقوم
— ☆Maya☆#عايزاك (@maya_MaguyNZ) June 24, 2020
It was the fourth incident of alleged Israeli strikes in Syria in the past month.
Israel has repeatedly warned that Iran and its proxies, notably Hezbollah, are developing precision-guided missiles, which Israel sees as one of the major strategic threats facing it.
Aaron Boxerman, Judah Ari Gross and agencies contributed to this report.