Israel’s Airstrikes in Syria

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on November 12, 2014

In a post yesterday I listed the operations Israel has so far carried out in Syria. Between 2007 and 2011, Israel eliminated several senior terrorists inside Syria and destroyed a nuclear-weapons facility. Since the war began in 2011, Israel has mostly carried out airstrikes in Syria to prevent Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) transferring advanced weaponry to the IRGC’s Lebanon-based branch, Hizballah. Rather than updating the prior post, which was on a slightly separate matter, this post will be kept as a rolling tally of Israeli operations in Syria, focused only on those since war broke out.

  1. November 11, 2012: In response to a mortar shell from Syria landing inside Israel, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) fired “a warning shot” towards Assad regime positions, the first time since 1973—thirty-nine years ago—that Israel fire has crossed the Syrian frontier.
  2. November 12, 2012: After a mortar shell landed in the Golan Heights, Israel retaliated with tank fire against an Assad regime mobile artillery unit and “confirmed a direct hit”.
  3. January 30, 2013: Israel devastated a convoy trying to transfer heavy weapons to the Hizballah in Lebanon and struck at a “scientific research centre” north-west of Damascus, the SSRC.
  4. April 28, 2013: Israeli jets flew over Bashar al-Assad’s presidential palace in Damascus and struck a chemical weapons site near the capital, according to UPI via the opposition.
  5. May 3, 2013: While initially reported that Israel struck a chemical weapons plant, it seems that what was actually hit was “a convoy carrying a shipment of advanced long-range ground-to-ground missiles to Hezbollah”—Iranian-made Fateh-110 missiles that were being warehoused near Damascus International Airport and Russian-made Yakhont shore-to-sea cruise missiles. Apparently Iran had delivered these the week before. According to The Wall Street Journal, Israel didn’t penetrate Syrian airspace to do this. Flying over Lebanon, “Israeli jets used a sudden burst of speed and altitude to catapult a bomb across the border to the target about 10 miles inside Syria.”
  6. May 5, 2013: Israel struck Mount Qassioun, the storage site for Syrian regime’s most advanced missiles—those needed, for instance, to deliver the chemical weapons of mass destruction (CWMD). It is also the home base of the Republican Guard, the most heavily-fortified zone of the capital. According to Ynet, Israel conducted three strikes on the Damascus-to-Beirut road, one of which hit a site near the Fourth Armoured Division’s headquarters in al-Saboura. With the Republican Guard, the Fourth Division are the regime’s Praetorians. In all Israel hit twelve targets, including Iranian-supplied missiles that were en route to the Hizballah, and a Syrian regime facility staffed by members of the IRGC. It has also been reported that the SSRC was hit (again).
  7. July 5, 2013: There were explosions at a naval barracks and weapons depot on the outskirts of Latakia City, around the Mushayrafet al-Samouk district. Yakhont anti-ship missiles may well have been the target and it is certainly possible that this was Israel.
  8. July 27, 2013: The “Revolutionary Leadership Council in Quneitra and the Golan” posted a report on its Facebook page that the Israeli Air Force had struck an army base in Quneitra. The strikes apparently denied the Hizballah access to advanced long-range missiles.
  9. August 1, 2013: An earth-shaking explosion occurred in Wadi al-Zahab, an Alawi-loyalist neighbourhood of Homs City. This was initially reported as being caused by rebel fire on an “ammunitions depot”. It was notable even at the time that there was a large “phosphate processing plant” no more than 800 feet from the previously identified arms depots—and phosphate does not combust or explode in this way, though CWMD would, and Homs was known to be a storage site for such munitions. As it turned out this was an Israeli strike and it was indeed on a chemical weapons facility.
  10. October 30, 2013: A Syrian air defence base near Snobar Jableh village, twenty miles south of Latakia City, housing an Air Force division important to the Assad despotism, was completely destroyed, almost certainly by Israel. The target seems to have been a Russian-made SA-3 battery of S-125 Neva/Pechora surface-to-air missiles, which have a a twenty-mile range. Also hit was “a command center with a radar to track the missiles’ targets and broadcasting antennas to track the missiles as they are launched”. It was also reported that SAM 8 anti-aircraft missiles were destroyed. Initial reports had suggested this was a naval strike but it was an aerial one, and the missiles were struck because the dictator was planning to send them to the Hizballah. It was in response to the Obama administration’s leaks about this operation that Israel struck back, accusing the U.S. of “selling our secrets on the cheap.”
  11. January 2, 2014: Rebel sources said Israel had struck into the Shekh Daher neighbourhood of Latakia City, apparently hitting a warehouse of S-300 missiles.
  12. January 26, 2014: The Israelis bombed a warehouse containing S-300 anti-aircraft missiles in Latakia city. The IAF launched the strikes from Lebanese airspace, from Baalbek and the Bekaa Valley.
  13. February 24, 2014: Israeli warplanes struck at the Hizballah just inside Lebanon, in Bekaa’s al-Nabi Shayth.
  14. June 22, 2014: After a civilian vehicle of contractors, carrying out routine maintenance work for the Israeli Defense Ministry in Quneitra, was attacked, injuring two men and murdering one of their sons, Israel struck nine targets inside Syria, killing three soldiers and injuring ten.
  15. December 7, 2014: Israel struck at least ten sites around Damascus International Airport and in the town of Dimas, near the Lebanese border, destroying long-range Iranian-made missiles that were about to be shipped to the Hizballah. Some reports said that Russian-made surface-to-air S-300s were also hit, and other reports said Israel had struck into Quneitra.
  16. January 18, 2015: An Israeli helicopter has struck into Quneitra, around Mazrat al-Amal, blitzing a Hizballah convoy of at least two vehicles, and killing anything between five and eleven people, at least one of them, Gen. Mohamad Ali Allahdadi, a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp. Of the dead Hizballah jihadists, three have been named: Abu Ali Tabatabai, the head of the Hizballah’s Radwan Special Operations Unit in Syria; Mohammed Issa (a.k.a. Hajj Abu Issa), a very important Hizballah Special Forces commander; and Jihad Mughniyeh, son of the infamous Imad Mughniyeh, whom there is every indication the Quds Force was grooming to perhaps one day succeed his daddy. The strike came after a Jan. 15 speech by Hassan Nasrallah in which he bragged of having Fateh-110 missiles, which can hit anywhere in Israel. More importantly, Nasrallah said that Hizballah would “consider … any strike against Syria … a strike against the whole of the Resistance Axis,” which is to say that Hizballah would respond to an Israeli attack on Assad/Iran in Syria as if Israel had attacked Lebanon. Israel’s actions intended to refute this “deterrence” messaging.
  17. April 22, 2015: Israel attacked a Hizballah convoy carrying weapons inside Syria, near the Lebanon border, destroying three trucks and killing one commander, according to al-Arabiya.
  18. April 24, 2015: Tonight, Israel has struck at the bases of the Assad regime’s 155th and 65th strategic missile brigades, stationed in Qalamoun. Residents of Yabrud and Qarah reported the explosions. Former Syrian opposition leader Hadi al-Bahra tweeted that there were reports of attacks on the 92nd battalion, in addition to the attacks on the 155th and 65th brigades. Al-Bahra also tweeted that the 155th brigade is responsible for launching Scud and Scud-B missiles. As ever, Israel refused either to confirm or deny that she carried out the airstrikes. Earlier today, IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly published a report, complete with satellite pictures, that Hizballah had constructed a new airstrip in the Bekaa Valley, which could be used for unmanned aircraft. The airstrip is located about five miles from Hermel City, a little over ten miles from the Syrian border, and was constructed between 2013 and 2014.
  19. April 26, 2015: Israel struck “a group of armed terrorists” as they approached Israel’s border through the Golan Heights with an explosive intended to target Israeli troops.
  20. May 8, 2015: Arab media reported that Israeli fighter jets had bombed a convoy (presumably Hizballah) on the Lebanon-Syria border.
  21. July 29, 2015: Israel has struck into Quneitra against the Assad tyranny. What exactly was hit is a matter of controversy. Hizballah’s Al-Manar reported that Israel killed two members of the National Defence Forces just outside Hadar, a Druze-majority town. But SOHR reported that a car carrying members of the Hizballah and the NDF was targeted and that in fact three members of the NDF were killed, plus two Hizballah jihadists. By SOHR’s reckoning, the NDF unit hit by the IAF was led by Druzi commander Samir Kuntar.
  22. August 20, 2015: After four missiles were fired by the Iran-controlled terrorist group Islamic Jihad from Quneitra into the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights and Upper Galilee, Israel responded with airstrikes “against more than a dozen Syrian military posts, weapons storage sites and artillery pieces”. Two SAA soldiers were killed in those strikes, according to SOHR.
  23. August 21, 2015: As a follow-on to yesterday’s response to rocket-fire from Quneitra, Israel has struck into the Golan and destroyed a car. SANA naturally said it was a civilian vehicle. SOHR said five NDF were killed. Israel’s Channel 2 said four Islamic Jihad terrorists were killed, along with an SAA officer and an Iranian officer, who were in the vehicle. Israel issued a formal protest (demarche) to the world powers that negotiated the nuclear agreement with Iran, saying that the attack upon her was “facilitated and directed” by Saeed Izaadhi, an Iranian operative “who heads the Palestinian unit” of the Quds Force. The Iran deal releases funds the Quds Force can use for further attacks on Israel.
  24. October 30, 2015: Israeli warplanes struck at two targets in the Damascus countryside area of Qalamoun, close to the Lebanese border, at 23:00, according to Syria Mubasher, an opposition-affiliated news site. Israel hit a military facility near Ras al-Ayn (not to be confused with the town of the same name in Hasaka Province) and another site in al-Qatifa area. It is still unknown what damage was caused and whether there were any casualties. Syria Mubasher said that Israeli jets entered Syrian airspace from Lebanon—and Lebanese websites did report seeing Israeli planes over Lebanon on Friday evening. If true, this is the first Israeli strike at the Assad regime since the Russian intervention in Syria began on Sept. 30.
  25. November 1, 2015: Israel was reported by the pro-Syrian-opposition outlet to have “bombed three warehouses containing scud missiles at the 155th Brigade [base] in western Qalamoun’s Qutayfa area, completely destroying the above-ground [installations].” The strikes allegedly took place at 21:30 and Israeli jets entered Syria via Lebanese airspace. Pro-Hizballah outlets also reported the strikes on the 155th Brigade base.
  26. November 11, 2015: At 18:00, Israel struck targets around Damascus, according to regime media, backed up by other images and videos on social media. Whether Israel hit a weapons shipment from Iran to Hizballah, or some other Iran-run terrorist asset or weapons cache in Syria that was not intended for transfer is unclear. Later reports from opposition sources say Israel entered Syrian airspace in Qalamoun, via Lebanon, and attacked several Hizballah outposts—seemingly weapons warehouses—near Damascus airport.
  27. November 23, 2015: During the evening, Israeli jets reportedly “launched two raids on a joint Assad forces and Hizballah position in the Ras al-Maara mountains,” in Qalamoun, according to two separate pro-opposition reports. “This was immediately followed by a third raid that targeted a position in the Qara mountains. The Israeli planes resumed their attack with a fourth air raid after several minutes, targeting a Hizballah position in western Qalamoun’s Flita Mountains.” The report added that the Israeli airstrikes had killed eight Hizballah jihadists and five SAA troops. At least “dozens” of other pro-regime forces, local and foreign, were injured.
  28. December 19, 2015: Israeli airstrikes around Jaramana, an area ten miles southeast of Damascus populated by Christians and Druze, reportedly destroyed four long-range missiles and killed Samir Kuntar, something seeming confirmed by Kuntar’s brother. Kuntar, a Lebanese Druze who was disowned by his own community for his cruelty and fanaticism, is most infamous for, at the age of 16, killing a police officer in Israel and kidnapping 31-year-old Danny Haran and his 4-year-old daughter, Einat, in April 1979 and making the girl watch as he murdered her father before crushing the child’s skull on a rock with his rifle butt, for which he served time in prison until he was released in a prisoner swap. An Iranian agent, Kuntar has worked in the last few years to recruit Hizballah-style militias from among the Syrian Druze and especially to expand Iran’s terrorist networks inside Syria toward Israel’s border. Kuntar’s most recent crime was to be the conduit for an Iranian Active Measure that got a moderate Syrian rebel lynched by Druzi inhabitants of the Golan Heights, mobilized by an Iranian messaging campaign that Israel was supporting al-Qaeda to massacre the Druze.
  29. February 16, 2016: Israel launched three airstrikes south of Damascus. The immediate trigger is reasons unclear.
  30. June 6, 2016: In Homs, Israel attacked the base of Assad’s elite Fourth Armoured Division, according to Zaman al-Awsl, quoting a regime military source.
  31. July 4, 2016: Israel struck back against the Assad regime after some “unusual” cross-border fire damaged the separation fence in the Golan.
  32. July 25, 2016: After Assad’s forces fired across the border, Israel struck from the air at regime targets in Quneitra.
  33. August 22, 2016: After Assad’s forces shelled Israel, Jerusalem responded with airstrikes on a regime military position in the Golan.
  34. August 24, 2016: According to Syrian opposition sources, Israel launched three airstrikes against Hizballah positions in Qalamoun. Jerusalem refused to comment (as usual) and Hizballah denied (as usual).
  35. November 27, 2016: [First Israeli attack not against the pro-Assad coalition:] After the Islamic State’s southern branch, Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Walid, shelled a patrol by the IDF’s Golani Brigade in the southern Golan Heights around 8:30 AM local time, Israel retaliated with airstrikes that killed three terrorists and wounded two. The three IS operatives killed were: Abu Ayyub (from Kweeya in southern Syria), Abu Muhammad (from Ayn Dakr in southern Syria), and Abu Zayd al-Muhajir (a Jordanian). At the start of a Cabinet meeting in Haifa, the site of terrible wildfire, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Israel will not let Islamic State or any other hostile organisation use the chaos of the war in Syria to set up shop on Israel’s northern border”.
  36. November 30, 2016: In the early hours of the morning, Israel conducted at least two airstrikes into the Greater Damascus area, specifically striking Sabboura, about five miles north-west of the city. It appears that one target was a base of the Fourth Armoured Division, one of the Assad tyranny’s Praetorian units. This might have been aimed at a weapons stockpile or at one of the leaders of Lebanese Hizballah. The second target seems to be a moving convoy on the Beirut-Damascus Highway, almost certainly carrying weapons to the Hizballah jihadists.
  37. December 7, 2016: At 3 AM, Israel launched surface-to-surface missiles from the Golan at Mezzeh military airport in Damascus and an hour later seems to have followed up with airstrikes from Lebanese airspace. The Israeli targets appear to have been the runway and the command centre for the Fourth Division, one of Assad’s Praetorian units. A Syrian oppositionist later claimed that Israel had destroyed a shipment of chemical weapons en route to Hizballah; there is reason for extreme scepticism of this claim.
  38. January 13, 2017: Israel bombed Mezzeh military airport, one of Assad’s most heavily-guarded facilities in the capital.
  39. February 8, 2017: Israel shelled into Syria after a rocket attack in Ramat Hagolan.
  40. February 22, 2017: Israeli warplanes devastated a weapons convoy in Damascus as it was making its way to Hizballah in Lebanon. The Israeli strikes, carried out at 3 AM against a regime base of the Third Division in the Katif area, were launched from Lebanese airspace.
  41. March 17, 2017: Israel strayed more deeply into Syria than at any previous time since the war began to carry out airstrikes on a military site near Palmyra. The Assad regime claimed to have brought down one IAF plane and hit another; this was a lie. One of the Syrian S-200 anti-aircraft missiles was intercepted by Israel’s Arrow missile defence system, its first operational use. (Arrow is a long-range version of Iron Dome.) A senior Hizballah operative was allegedly killed in these strikes.
  42. March 19, 2017: A targeted Israeli strike on a car in Khan Arnabeh, in Qunaytra province, killed Yasser al-Sayyed, a commander of the Iran-created and -commanded National Defence Forces. Al-Sayyed was allegedly in charge of an air defence unit within the NDF.
  43. March 20, 2017: In the early hours of the morning, “Israeli jets took out a number of targets near the Lebanon-Syria border including a Hezbollah weapons convoy and Syrian military sites.”
  44. March 22, 2017: Overnight, the Israelis struck Assad military positions in Mount Qasioun, Damascus. This came hours after the annual rebel Hama offensive began.
  45. April 21, 2017: The IDF announced that it had retaliated against Assadist mortars launched at the Golan, though gave no further details.
  46. April 23, 2017: Israel launched airstrikes against the Iran-led, pro-Assad NDF militia in the Naba al-Fawwar area of Qunaytra province, reportedly killing three fighters and wounding two more.
  47. April 27, 2017: A round of Israeli airstrikes in eastern Damascus, near the international airport, destroyed a depot stocked with weapons shipped into Syria by the Iranian regime, designed to outfit an array of pro-Assad militias, specifically Shi’i jihadist groups led by Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hizballah. The Israeli Intelligence Minister, Israel Katz, speaking from the United States, told Israeli Army Radio: “I can confirm that the incident in Syria corresponds completely with Israel’s policy to act to prevent Iran’s smuggling of advanced weapons via Syria to Hizballah”. Four cargo planes from Iran had landed at the airport just hours before the strikes took place at 3:25 AM.
  48. April 29, 2017: Israel struck at an Assad military base in Qunaytra.
  49. June 24, 2017: After Assad’s forces launched ten shells against Israel, airstrikes were launched against regime military installations in Qunaytra and two regime tanks were destroyed, one as it was preparing to fire on Israel again.
  50. June 25, 2017: After Assadist shellfire landed in Israel, the IAF bombed two Syrian artillery positions and an ammunitions truck. “Our policy is clear”, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Cabinet meeting. “We will not tolerate any spillover or trickle whatsoever … We will respond strongly to any attack on our territory or our citizens.”
  51. September 6, 2017: About twenty minutes before midnight [British time], Israel launched airstrikes from Lebanese airspace that demolished Al-Tala’i Research Centre in Masyaf, twenty miles west of Hama City. Al-Tala’i is under the authority of the Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), which is the multiply-sanctioned agency that controls the Asad regime’s weapons of mass destruction program. Al-Tala’i was one of three facilities—the other two being in Dummar and Barzeh near Damascus—that the BBC exposed in May 2017 were producing chemical WMD in defiance of the 2013 “deal” that supposedly eliminated Asad’s CWMD. Al-Tala’i is also believed to have been involved in the creation of barrel bombs. This strike occurred ten years to the day after Israel’s Operation ORCHARD, which destroyed al-Kibar reactor in the deserts of Deir Ezzor. Amos Yadlin, the director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, who was the chief of Israeli military intelligence from 2006 to 2010 and took part in the strike that disarmed Saddam Husayn in 1981, wrote in The New York Times describing the meaning of this attack. Yadlin said this attack was meant to accomplish five goals: (1) extending the Begin Doctrine that refuses to allow regional states to develop WMD; (2) politically messaging Israel’s displeasure with Iran approaching its border; (3) reinforcing Israel’s deterrence, so that its redlines are understood to be serious; (4) informing Russia that Israel will not be restrained by Moscow’s presence in Syria; and (5) “The final message—and perhaps the most important—is the moral one. … The facility that was hit produces chemical weapons, barrel bombs and a variety of other weapons that the Assad regime has used to massacre innocents. Destroying it could save countless lives”.
  52. September 22, 2017: Early this morning, Israel carried out three separate airstrikes on a Hizballah weapons depot near Damascus International Airport, “an area known to be a stronghold of the Iranian-backed terrorist group”.
  53. October 16, 2017: The Asad regime fired an SA5-type missile at Israeli reconnaissance planes, and the Israelis responded by dropping four bombs on an anti-aircraft battery near Damascus.
  54. November 1, 2017: Israeli airstrikes hit a copper factory in Hisya, an industrial town twenty miles south of Homs city. The Asad regime claimed to have fired surface-to-air missiles at the IAF; no Israeli planes were struck.
  55. December 2, 2017: About 00:30 local time [22:30, 1 Dec., British time], Israel launched airstrikes at an Iranian base in al-Kiswah, outside Damascus. This base was first reported on by BBC on 10 November. Satellite images show construction between January and October 2017, the BBC reports, and the images show “a series of two-dozen large low-rise buildings—likely for housing soldiers and vehicles. In recent months, additional buildings have been added to the site. … The images of the base do not reveal any signs of large or unconventional weaponry which means if it was a base it would most likely be to house soldiers and vehicles. One source said it was possible that senior Iranian military officials may have visited the compound in recent weeks. … [I]t is not clear whether the facility is currently occupied. … Analysts estimate up to 500 troops could be based at the site.” The pro-Asad coalition claimed to have intercepted Israel’s missiles, and presented what was targeted as a weapons depot. The Turkish state media said the base contained pro-regime soldiers and a munitions factory. It appears Israel launched the strikes from Lebanon. It was initially unclear if Iran had assets—from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Lebanese Hizballah, or IRGC-controlled militiamen from Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere—at the base. Later reports suggested that twelve Iranians were killed in the strike.
  56. 9 January 2018: Shortly before 3 AM local time, Israel launched airstrikes from Lebanese airspace at the Qutayfa area northeast of Damascus, targeting the 155 Missile Brigade. The Asad regime claimed—without evidence—to have retaliated with surface-to-air missiles and “hit one of [Israel’s] planes”. It seems Israel also launched surface-to-surface missiles from the Golan at the Hizballah base south of the Syrian capital.
  57. 10 February 2018: In response to Iran directly—for the first time not using a proxy—launching an armed drone inside Israel, the Israeli Air Force conducted a large series of airstrikes into Syria, including at the T4 (or Tiyas) base in eastern Homs, from which the drone had been sent and where the IRGC is sheltered. It seemsthe incident on Feb. 10 … beg[a]n as an Iranian ‘bait-and-trap’ operation, in which an Iranian drone (a cloned copy of an American RQ-170 Reaper captured by Iran in December 2011) was dispatched from an aircraft hangar used by Iran’s IRGC within the T4 airbase. The drone was then flown at low altitude along the Jordanian border and toward the Israeli-held Golan Heights in an attempt to lure an Israeli response. As it crossed into Israeli airspace, the drone was promptly shot down by an Israeli AH-64 Apache helicopter and shortly thereafter, eight Israeli F-16s launched a series of strikes on the IRGC-dedicated section of T4. In what then looked like a ‘SAMbush,’ multiple Syrian government air-defense systems activated near-simultaneously and fired a barrage of 27 surface-to-air missiles at the Israeli aircraft, bringing one down. In the two hours that followed, the Israeli Air Force launched a substantial air response that struck four IRGC and eight Syrian government targets, reportedly including the principal ‘command and control bunker’ used to coordinate Syrian military operations nationwide.” This was the first time in over-100 strikes that an Israeli jet had been brought down over Syria, and the first time since 1982 Israel has had a plane downed. In response to the downing of its jet, Israel launched a second wave of airstrikes into Syria against the pro-Assad coalition, including positions occupied by the Fourth Armoured Division, one of the elite killing units of Asad’s regime that used to be run by his brother. This was one of the largest exchanges of fire between Israel and Syria. Some reports had Israel destroying half of the Asad regime’s air defence systems.
  58. 9 April 2018: Around 4 AM local time, Israel launched a series of airstrikes, attacking the T4 base in the eastern desert that is home to some of the Iranian operatives who effectively control Assad’s security sector. This attack, which killed fourteen people, comes on the eve of likely Western military action to punish Asad for the 7 April poison gas attack in Duma. Iran has admitted to four IRGC casualties; other reports suggest seven Iranians were killed. A senior Israeli official confirmed to The New York Times that while Iran’s 10 February attack with the drone was “the first time we saw Iran do something against Israel—not by proxy,” the Israelis had accepted the challenge of this “new period” and on 9 April had deliberately targeted Iranian personnel for the first time. This was the base from which Iran launched the drone at Israel on 10 February that provoked the most serious round of Israeli retaliation against Iran in Syria so far, and indeed Israel’s target was the “command center of Iran’s drone-operating forces in Syria”. The immediate provocation for this was staged on 5 April by Asad and Iran moving tanks and artillery into the demilitarised area that Israel and Syria agreed to in 1974. This is in preparation for an apparent offensive into Deraa in southern Syria, near Israel’s border. It is part of a broader strategic development. Israel has tried to work through Russia to limit Iran’s increasingly aggressive behaviour in Syria, and, when that proved hopeless, has begun acting on its own initiative. Importantly, Israel coordinated with the U.S. for these strikes and did not bother to warn the Russians ahead of time, a stern rebuke to the narrative that the Israelis operate by Russia’s say-so in Syria. There is a “deconfliction” mechanism with the Kremlin, simply to try to avoid collisions, but even that has fallen into abeyance. It is these facts that explain why Russia made the unusual decision to join Asad in publicly accusing Israel of carrying out these airstrikes. The Wall Street Journal later reported that Israel had attacked a “newly arrived antiaircraft battery [at the T4 base] to prevent Iranian forces from using it against Israeli warplanes … and [also destroyed] a hanger used to shelter drones”. Ynet subsequently clarified that the target was the “Third Khordad”, an Iranian replica of the Russian S-300. Israel reportedly destroyed the system just after it was unloaded from an Iranian plane, before it could be unpacked. Despite this tactical success, however, The Journal explained that Israel’s overall level of success against Iran in Syria was questionable: “Iran is flying weapons into [Hmaymeem] Air Base, a well-defended Russian base on the Mediterranean coast … Iran also has rebuilt a presence at Damascus International Airport after a 2015 airstrike, and the airport also now serves as a base for Iran’s Quds Force, which has built underground storage tunnels to safeguard weaponry … In total, Iran now works from five airfields in Syria, including Aleppo, Deir Ezzour, T-4, Damascus airport and Sayqal, located south of the capital … At each, Iranian military transport aircraft bring weapons for Hezbollah or missiles and drones specifically for Iranian forces”.
  59. 29 April 2018: Iran/Hizballah warehouses in Hama province, at the 47th Brigade’s base, were hit by Israeli airstrikes, destroying about 200 surface-to-surface missiles and killing 16 people. The trigger for the strike was likely the shipment of Iranian anti-aircraft missiles to the Hama facility days ago. The explosion registered as a minor earthquake. Of the slain, 11 were reportedly Iranians and it can be guessed that at least some of the others were Pakistanis since IRGC’s Pakistani Shi’i unit, Liwa Zaynabiyun, is based at the 47th’s Base, as it is at the Nayrab Airbase in Aleppo province, which was also struck tonight. Iran initially admitted casualties—said to be as high as 40 by some accounts—then took down the report in its state media. The Israeli government believed that Iran would retaliate for this attack, though, because it had lost men and not just materiel. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamene’i gave voice to this sentiment in a statement saying: “The era of attacking us and fleeing has ended. Your strikes will be met with strikes”.
  60. 7 May 2018: Israeli airstrikes targeted the “Uragan system—a launch vessel bearing 16 especially massive Katyusha missiles with a 220 millimeter diameter”.
  61. 8 May 2018: Israel launched airstrikes against into the Kiswa area of southern Damascus, known to house Iranian forces. (This was reported about five minutes after President Trump concluded his remarks terminating the Iran nuclear deal.) Pictures soon emerged of large explosions. It appears vehicles and a factory were the target, as well as an anti-aircraft system, all linked to the IRGC presence. SOHR claims that eight IRGC operatives were killed, plus seven other pro-Asad fighters. The regime claimed to shoot down two Israeli missiles. Israel ordered its citizens in the north into bomb shelters—though by the morning of 9 May all seemed back to normal, with schools open and Prime Minister Netanyahu departing for a trip to Moscow. The strikes tonight come after warnings from Jerusalem that Iran is preparing an attack on the Jewish state.
  62. 10 May 2018: At around 1:00 local time [23:00, 9 May, British time], 32 missiles were fired by the pro-Asad coalition into the Israeli-held Golan. The Asad regime then took the highly unusual—and deeply unwise—step of claiming the attack, its first offensive action into the Jewish state since 1973, albeit at the behest of a foreign force. Four of the Iranian-directed missiles were intercepted, and Israel claims the others did not reach Israeli territory. None of the missiles killed nor injured anybody, and it seems this was intentional: Iran felt a need to be seen to retaliate after Israel’s recent strikes—for the very first time on 10 February, then again on 9 and 29 April, and 8 May—deliberately killed Iranians, rather than just destroying property. Tehran miscalculated that it could satisfy its honour, while signalling to Israel that it did not mean any real harm. Over a three-hour period, between 2:00 and 5:00 local time [midnight and 3:00 British time], Israel attacked 35, 50, or 80 sites (depending on source), from south of the capital to the heart of Damascus to Homs. A later Israeli summary of events put the total Iranian targets lower, at 20, with the other targets being Asad’s anti-aircraft batteries, which fired over 100 missiles at Israeli jets. Real time social media reports noted attacks in: Qunaytra, Deraa, Kiswa, and Ghuta; Qusayr; an ammunition store and then a radar facility in Damascus; and an IRGC site in Sayyida Zaynab. Satellite pictures released by the Israelis showed damage done to al-Kiswa, Tel Miqdad, and Tel Gharba. Later there were maps of the targets. The Israeli statement in the aftermath said, “We warned the Syrian Army to stay out of this”. This humiliating statement to Asad was in line with the rather unfortunate messaging Israel had used during the attacks, telling Asad he was not the intended target—so long as he stayed out of their way. Adding to the trend of Israel apparently beginning to recognise Moscow’s malevolent intent, Russia was not informed ahead of this attack. Israel also released footage of a direct hit on the Russian-made Pantsir-S1 missile defence system, an embarrassment to Moscow’s efforts to advertise its weapons in the Levant. 23 or more people were killed in the 10 May attacks. SOHR claimed that 42 pro-Asad troops, nineteen of them Iranians, were killed between the two waves of Israeli airstrikes, 8 and 10 May. An Israeli official claimed that the Israeli airstrikes had demolished or damaged a significant percentage of the estimated $750 million in military infrastructure that the Iranians have constructed in Syria. The Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman went further, saying Israel “hit nearly all the Iranian infrastructure in Syria”. Jerusalem seemed to take a lot of comfort from the scale of this attack. The proportional damage was almost certainly less than Israel imagined, and more worrying was the focus on military equipment: IRGC’s influence—its social and political and financial networks across Syria—cannot really be measured in bricks and mortar.
  63. 24 May 2018: Israel was likely behind the airstrikes against the Dab’a military base, in the Qusayr area of Homs, a known Hizballah/IRGC site. The strikes were launched from Lebanese airspace.
  64. 17 June 2018: Late in the day, an airstrike was launched against pro-Asad forces in al-Huri, near al-Bukamal in Deir Ezzor province. In a disturbing return to the Obama days, U.S. officials leaked to the news media that it was Israel. It is uncommon for Israel to attack that far east in Syria. Those killed were Iraqi Shi’a jihadists, the Iranian proxies that as part of al-Hashd al-Shabi have been made a formal part of the Iraqi state. 22 Hashd militiamen were killed, by their own count. The Fatah coalition, the political wing of the Hashd, called on the Iraqi government to protect its forces in Syria, while Baghdad denies it has forces in Syria.
  65. 6 July 2018: In response to pro-Asad forces shelling the Golan, an Israeli airstrike was launched against a hill in Khan Arnabeh village in Qunaytra province. There were no reported casualties. This was in the context of an Iranian-led offensive into Deraa, southern Syria, near the Israeli border, supported by the Russians, despite promises to Jerusalem that Iranian forces would be kept away from its border.
  66. 8 July 2018: Israel attacked the T4 base near Tiyas for the third time this year, “flying at low altitude to avoid detection,” and passing through the Tanf area in south-east Syria, on the Jordanian border, where the U.S. has a garrison. The previous two Israeli strikes occurred on 10 February and overnight 8/9 April this year. This strike consisted of six missiles and unlike the previous two is not reported to have killed anybody.
  67. 12 July 2018: After a drone entered the Golan from Syria, Israel attacked three Syrian regime positions in Qunaytra with airstrikes. The IDF said in a statement that it “holds the Syrian regime accountable for the actions carried out in its territory and warns it from further action against Israeli forces”.
  68. 22 July 2018: Israeli airstrikes targeted a Masyaf facility, the Scientific Studies and Research Center (CERS), known as one of the key production and storage sites for Asad’s chemical WMD. The attack occurred before dusk, a rare day-time airstrike by Israel in Syria. Unconfirmed reports suggested that several Hizballah jihadists, who are known to operate in force in that area alongside the IRGC, had been killed in the attack. The facility was previously attacked by Israel in September 2017. SOHR said one strike hit a “workshop supervised by Iranians where surface-to-surface missiles are made”.
  69. 2 August 2018: Late on, Israel carried out airstrikes on the Iranian base in the Kiswa area of Damascus; it is unclear if there were any casualties. The Asad regime claimed to have shot down several incoming missiles.
  70. 2 September 2018: Explosions at the Mezzeh Airbase in Damascus were initially reported as “an electrical short-circuit in an ammunition depot” by Iranian propaganda, but it appears they were caused by Israeli airstrikes.
  71. 15 September 2018: Late in the evening, Israel attacked Damascus International Airport. The Asad regime claimed that its “air defences responded … and shot down a number of hostile missiles”. The regime certainly fired off surface-to-air (SAM) missiles; there is no evidence they hit anything.
  72. 17 September 2018: An Israeli raid targeted a facility in Latakia where the Iranians were assembling advanced weaponry to ship on to Hizballah. Long after the Israelis had departed, the Asad regime fired off unguided missiles from its Russian-supplied S-200 air defence system—and accidentally brought down a Russian IL-20, a military patrol aircraft, killing fifteen people. The Russians reacted hysterically, blaming Israel. Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, the spokesperson for the Russian military, denounced the “irresponsible actions of the Israeli military” as “absolutely not in keeping with the spirit of Russian-Israeli partnership”. The IDF put out a statement, a rare acknowledgment of Israeli action in Syria, to note: “Israel holds the Assad regime, whose military shot down the Russian plane, fully responsible for this incident”. The regime had “fired indiscriminately and from what we understand did not bother to ensure no Russian planes were in the air”, said the IDF. The IDF went on to say that Iran and Hizballah clearly bear responsibility, too, for developing dangerous weapons in that area that necessitated the strikes in the first place. In a telephone conversation between Defence Ministers, Gen. Sergei Shoigu told Avigdor Liberman that the Israelis were irresponsible, that the blame for the deaths “rests entirely with the Israeli side”, and said the Russians “reserve the right for further reciprocal steps”. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to bring the temperature down in his telephone conversation with Vladimir Putin, reaffirming “the importance of the continuation of security coordination between Israel and Russia”. On 24 September, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu made a televised address in which he announced that “a modern S-300 air defence missile system will be transferred to the Syrian armed forces within two weeks”. Shoigu further said that the Russians would “jam [Israel’s] satellite navigation, on-board radars, and communication systems of combat aircraft” by deploying electronic warfare equipment like the Krasukha-4. Moscow has been threatening to send an S-300 to Syria since 2013, at the latest, even threatening this transfer earlier this year after the West struck at Asad over the chemical weapons attack in Ghuta. It was announced by Shoigu on 1 October 2018 the Kremlin had “completed the delivery of the S-300s systems” to Syria. According to Shoigu, 49 pieces of equipment had been transferred, including four launchers, and the entire system would be operational by 20 October. On 5 February 2019, satellite pictures appeared showing among other things that three of the four launchers at the Masyaf base were raised. This suggested that the S-300 was finally operational, but Hizballah’s media said that such a condition was a month away.
  73. 29 November 2018: Israeli airstrikes against Hizballah/Iran weapons sites at Kiswa, south of Damascus, and an Asad regime military base at Harfa, marked the first kinetic action by the Jewish state since the air defences fiasco with the Russians in September. A Syrian air-defence missile was fired toward Israel, but it is unclear if it reached the Golan.
  74. 25 December 2018: Israel attacked Hizballah/Iran sites, specifically weapons warehouses, south of Damascus and the Asad regime activated its air defence systems; one surface-to-air missile penetrated Israeli territory before being brought down by Iron Dome, seemingly near Hadera in the Haifa area. It appears that the strikes, launched around 22:00, came from Lebanese airspace. Three hours before the strikes, an Iranian 747 cargo jet, owned by the notorious Fars Air Qeshm, had landed in Syria.
  75. 11 January 2019: Israel launched airstrikes against Damascus International Airport and Hizballah bases in Kiswa, south of the Syrian capital. The strikes, at about 23:15 local time, destroyed a Hizballah missile depot, among other things. In a rare move, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly admitted that Israel was behind these airstrikes. Netanyahu said the strikes were to prevent “the settlement of Iran in Syria”, and within this “framework … the military has struck hundreds of times against Iranian and Hizballah targets”. The Prime Minister added: “So I advise [the Iranians] to get out of [Syria] quickly because we will continue our offensive policy as we promised and as we do without fear and without pause”.
  76. 20 January 2019: Israel carried out a rare daytime airstrike in Syria, doing extensive damage to Damascus International Airport, including storehouses and radar equipment.
  77. 21 January 2019: In retaliation for the daylight air raid yesterday, Iran fired a surface-to-surface missile toward a packed ski resort in the Golan Heights. Initially suspected to be an anti-aircraft missile, fired off during the Asad regime’s dangerous habit of firing randomly in response to Israeli incursions, the Israelis contend that they have intelligence saying the Iranians planned this missile attack months in advance in an effort to deter and restrict Israeli action in Syria. In either event, the missile was brought down by the Iron Dome system over Mount Hermon. Israel responded with three sorties in Damascus, a mere twelve hours after the previous round of airstrikes in the city, attacking Iranian intelligence sites, training bases, and “the main storage hub” for IRGC weaponry, plus the regime air defence systems that fired at the IAF. SOHR claims that 21 IRGC-controlled militiamen were killed in the attack: 12 Iranians, three foreign Shi’a fighters, and six members of the Syrian military. If true, this is the most deadly attack Israel has launched against Iran in Syria, where Jerusalem has made a conscious effort to target infrastructure and not inflict casualties.
  78. 11 February 2019: Israeli tanks shelled Asad regime positions in four towns in Qunaytra province, including the provincial capital. This is the first time in nearly a year the Israelis have shelled regime positions along the Golan.
  79. 12 April 2019: In the evening, Israel bombed facilities in the Masyaf area that have been struck before, about eighteen months ago. The facilities belong to the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), which has become best-known for developing Asad’s chemical weapons, but which is also develops missiles and other conventional weaponry. Masyaf is a zone where Iran has particular input, through Hizballah and other IRGC forces, and it is missile sites that Israel has attacked in this case. From the satellite pictures, it seems three buildings were devastated, including a manufacturing hangar for surface-to-surface missiles.

4 thoughts on “Israel’s Airstrikes in Syria

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