Yet another suspected Israeli missile strike targeted an Iranian arms shipment at a Syrian airport late Saturday night, as was reported by UPI.
The wire service said that the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency shared video of Syrian air defenses confronting the strike near the capital city of Damascus and the video showed the repelling of some of the incoming missiles it said came had emanated from Israel.
‘’Our air defense systems thwarted an Israeli missile aggression,” state news agency SANA cited a military source as saying.
Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said explosions heard near Damascus were caused by strikes targeting a warehouse and an arms shipment from Iran to the Lebanese Hezbollah militia. The group also alleged that Israel had been responsible for killing 113 Iranians in Syrian strikes over the past month.
The report that the group issued did not cite specific sources for the data it provided. It offered an overview of dozens of targets Israel hit across Syria, including in the Golan Heights and southern Syria, as was reported by HaAretz.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said Israel does not comment on foreign reports.
Israel rarely acknowledges attacks inside Syria but has said it is its policy to employ military action to prevent weapons transfers to its enemies.
The Times of Israel reported that according to a Hadashot TV news report Sunday morning, the Iranian Boeing-made cargo plane was loaded with weapons and had recently landed at the Damascus International Airport from Tehran.
Reports in Syrian media said that Russian-made S-200 air defense systems were destroyed in the missile attack.
Some of the warehouses used to store weapons were labeled “United Nations” or “DHL” in an effort to disguise them from Israeli intelligence-gathering efforts, The Times of Israel reported.
Speaking Sunday at a cabinet meeting after the alleged strike, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country would continue to enforce “red lines” to prevent the transfer of weapons into Syria.
“Israel is constantly working to prevent our enemies from arming themselves with advanced weaponry,” he said. He added that, “Our red lines are as sharp as ever and our determination to enforce them is stronger than ever.
Also on Sunday, it was reported that the alleged Israeli strike caused “substantial” damage at the airport, but had no immediate information on casualties.
On Monday night, the Syrian news agency SANA reported that blasts were heard in the Syrian port city of Lattakia. Syrian media reported that the source behind the attack was still unclear, according to a report in HaAretz.
The Israeli newspaper reported that Syrian air defenses responded to several missiles that were fired at Lattakia from the sea and were successful in intercepting several of them before they struck their intended target, SANA quoted a military source as saying. Social media reports indicated that blasts were heard at a suburb near the port city.
Earlier on Monday, it was reported that Russia had declared that an offensive on Syria’s Idlib, the rebel-held enclave in the war-torn country, was no longer negotiable.
Russia’s Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Monday and announced that a demilitarized zone in the Idlib will be formed by October 15.
On September 5th, it was reported that the Israel Defense Forces revealed that it had carried out roughly 200 strikes in Syria over the past year and a half. According to the IDF, the attacks made use of over 800 missiles and bombs that were dropped on selected sites, mostly from fighter jets. The attacks have mostly focused on Iranian weapons convoys and other Iranian targets in Syria.
As was reported at the time, the SANA news agency said that Israeli jets were flying at high altitude above Lebanon fired several missiles on the area of Wadi Ayoun in Syria’s Hama province, killing at least one person in the town of Baniyas in the coastal Tartous province.
The IDF’s activity in Syria has occasionally created tension with Russia, which is allied with the Assad regime. The Russians complained that IDF attacks in Syria undermined the regime’s achievements, according to a previous HaAretz report.
Moscow, however has accepted the IDF’s position that Iranian forces must be kept at least 80 kilometers from the Israeli border, because it views Iran as a rival for influence in Syria once the Syrian civil war ends.
In May of this year, the IDF noticed a change in Iran’s activities in Syria. Tehran hasn’t abandoned its desire to set up shop in Syria but it has slowed the process and vacated certain positions.
Missiles also destroyed several Syrian air defense systems after Israeli jets came under heavy fire. All planes returned safely to base.
The Israeli blitz came after Iranian forces fired 20 rockets at the Golan Heights, causing little damage but no casualties.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said at the time that Israel has a “very clear policy:” He said it will not allow Iran to turn Syria into a forward military base against the Jewish state.
Lieberman said that in response to Iran’s “arrogance,” Israel destroyed almost all of Iran’s infrastructure in Syria. “If we get rain, then they will get a flood,” the defense minister said.
Nitzan Nuriel, a former counterterrorism chief, says Israel does not want an escalation, so the ball is in the court of Iran.
“They need to decide if they want to increase the friction, or they understand that at this stage they cannot take actions against us, and they need to wait. And if this is the case, that will be the end of this very short and aggressive conflict. We don’t want to carry out more attacks. We wanted to send a message, a very strong message, and I think that we did it,” said Nuriel.
In August of this year, TPS reported that the director of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), Dr. Aziz Asber was killed along with his driver after a bomb went off in his car as they were leaving his home in the central Syrian province of Hama. Speculation was rife that Israel’s spy agency, Mossad was behind the assassination.
According to the Hezbollah affiliated al-Manar news site, Asber headed a department focusing on the development of Syria’s ballistic missile programs, including their long range missile programs and chemical weapons. He was also reported to have connections to both Iranian and North Korean scientists.
The Syrian rebel group Tahrir al-Sham, also known as the Nusra Front claimed responsibility for the attack stating that they planted small explosive devices in Asber’s car. Other rebel groups pointed a finger at the Syrian regime, which publicly stated that is unknown who targeted Asbar.
Several Middle Eastern publications have pointed out that both the identity of the target – a senior scientist in charge of a weapons program, as well as the method – small explosives planted in private vehicles, are reminiscent of Israeli actions aimed at thwarting Iran’s nuclear program, as well as a common method of operation used by Mossad in assassinations – most notably, the assassination of Imad Mughniyah, one of the founders of Hezbollah and the group’s chief of staff who was killed by a car bomb in Damascus in 2008, during a joint operation by Mossad and the CIA.
Israeli officials have kept quiet about the incident, not letting on any possibility of Israeli involvement. According to foreign reports however, the Israeli Air Force struck Asber’s research unit on multiple occasions, most recently on July 22nd, as it was believed to be working in conjunction with Iran, said to be developing short range surface to surface missiles with Iranian guidance.
The IDF and Defense Ministry have refused to comment on Asber’s death, but meanwhile Lebanese and Syrian media continue to blame Israel for the assassination.
The Hezbollah affiliated al-Akhbar daily published a piece accusing Israel of being behind the assassination, claiming that while much is still unknown about the incident, both the target and methods employed are reminiscent of Israeli actions in the past. According to the piece, Israel is seeking to prevent the Syrian army from returning to the state it was in prior to the Syrian civil war, as it wishes to maintain the military superiority it has achieved over the past decade.
By: Fern Sidman
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