Israeli Air Force (IAF) aircraft hit at least 18 sites that house Iranian troops and weapons storage facilities near the Iraqi border in Syria on Tuesday night. This is a sign that Israel is ratcheting up pressure on Iran and its proxy militias in the country, despite the upcoming change of administrations in Washington.
Casualties are listed as 23 killed and 28 wounded. Yet, the death toll is expected to rise as many troops and militiamen were seriously injured in the airstrikes.
This is the third and largest airstrike against an Iranian-linked presence in Syria in the past month. Initial reports had the airstrikes hitting as many as 50 different targets. The strikes come on the heels of an extensive Israeli leaflet drop campaign aimed at reducing civilian deaths.
Due to the problems of conducting airstrikes so far from Israeli air space this particular operation targeted Iranian positions close to the Iraqi border. This may account for the large number of targets engaged in the operation, which makes it a rarity among Israeli airstrikes.
Syrian official state news agency SANA reported that the airstrikes targeted sites in the Boukamal and Deir Ezzor areas in eastern Syria. These areas host a large concentration of Iranian Quds Force members and Iranian-backed militias, including Hezbollah.
“At 1:10 a.m., the Israeli enemy carried out an aerial assault on the town of Deir Ezzor and the Al Bukamal region,” SANA said, quoting a military source.
“The results of the aggression are currently being verified,” the report added.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a U.K. watchdog for the Syrian civil war, said that Israeli airstrikes targeted 10 warehouses, bases, and other positions on the outskirts of Deir Ezzor city. Additionally, six bases, weapons warehouses, and ammunition depots were targeted in the Al-Bokamal desert; two targets in the Al-Mayadeen desert were also hit. Several of the targets were hit more than once.
According to SOHR, the struck positions belonged to the Syrian forces, the Iranian Quds Force, and their proxy militias, mainly the “Fatemiyoun Brigade” and Hezbollah.
“They burnt Iranian positions in Deir Ezzor,” said Omar Abu Laila of the news organization DeirEzzor24.
The Times of Israel reported, via the Associated Press, that the airstrikes were carried out with intelligence provided by the United States. It added that they targeted several warehouses used as a part of the pipeline to store and stage Iranian weapons, including components that support the Iranian nuclear program. The paper did not provide details on those components.
A U.S. official, who spoke anonymously to the AP, said that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had discussed the airstrikes with Mossad chief Yossi Cohen during a meeting in Washington, DC, earlier this week.
With the Trump administration down to its last week, there are many who feel that the U.S. will launch an attack on Iranian interests before the transition of power.
In response to these latest airstrikes, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have reportedly increased air defenses along the northern Israeli border due to concerns that Iran could carry out an attack against Israel from Lebanon, Syria, or Yemen.
The IDF did not comment on these latest airstrikes, in accordance with its policy to neither confirm nor deny most of its operations in Syria (although they have acknowledged several attacks in the past).
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz recently visited troops along the Syrian border region. He stated that the Israelis are going to be proactive in regards to hitting the Iranian presence that threatens the country.
“We aren’t sitting around and waiting. We’re active defensively, politically, and economically,” he said.
The Israelis have reportedly conducted hundreds of airstrikes against Iranian forces in Syria since the civil war began 10 years ago.