An Israeli airstrike in the Syrian port of Latakia during the early hours of Tuesday morning hit the port’s container facility in the second attack on the port this month.

“At around 3:21 am [0121 GMT], the Israeli enemy carried out an aerial aggression with several missiles from the direction of the Mediterranean … targeting the container yard in Latakia port,” the Syrian state news agency, SANA said quoting an unnamed military source. The strike caused “massive material damage” in the container yard, it added.

There was no report on casualties, but video and still photos from the port facility showed significant damage and massive fires and secondary explosions, which were noteworthy. 

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, firefighters try to douse the flames in the container facility of the port of Latakia after an Israeli airstrike. (SANA via AP)

SANA reported that the containers were carrying “engine oil and spare parts for cars and other vehicles.” However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based watchdog on the Syrian Civil War, stated that the cargo in the containers was “arms and munitions” that had detonated in “powerful explosions that were felt across the city of Latakia and its suburbs.” 

That description would be accurate with the secondary explosions seen in the night sky above the port. As is their usual operating procedure, Israel refused to confirm or deny the airstrike, telling Reuters, “We don’t comment on foreign reports,” a military spokesperson said.  

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) has avoided striking the port facility for years because of the close proximity of Russian military forces in the area. The Russians man an airbase at Hmeimim about 12 miles away from Latakia. The Israelis believe that Iran is using the close proximity of Russian troops in using the civilian port of Latakia, thinking Israel won’t respond. 

However, Israeli intelligence, which is the best in the region, obviously knows when Iran is shipping missiles, missile components, arms, and ammunition to their proxies in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. That’s why the IAF has conducted hundreds of airstrikes in Syria since the civil war began.

Major General Aharon Haliva, the head of Israeli intelligence, has accused Iran of “continuing to promote subversion and terror” in the Middle East.

The Times of Israel quoted the Syrian state-run al-Ikhbariyah Television, which ran footage showing the container terminal at the port in flames. The explosions and flames spread to neighboring buildings adding to the conflagration. Under the Laws of Armed Conflict military targets are not immune to attack because they are in the proximity of civilian areas.  It is the responsibility of the individual belligerents to keep legitimate military targets(like containers full of munitions), in places well clear of civilians. 

A local television reporter said the attack appeared to have been larger than the strike earlier this month, and the explosions could be heard in Tartus, about 50 miles away. The Russians have a naval base there. 

The Syrian Civil War has claimed over 500,000 lives since it began in 2011. Iran has continued to finance, arm, and command several militias that support the regime of Bashar al-Assad, who has survived as the president of Syria. However, the humanitarian cost continues to rise, and the country’s economy is in shambles. 

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