What happened: Last night residents in central Israel and the coastal plain heard explosions that are thought to be the result of anti-aircraft missiles fired from Syria toward Israel that exploded over the Mediterranean Sea.
- According to Syrian media and the UK based Syrian Human Rights Observatory, the missiles were fired towards Israel fighter jets that last night attacked military sites connected to a scientific research centre outside Damascus. It is suspected that the site is used by Iranian militias for producing weapons.
- Syrian sources said that Israeli planes attacked from the skies above Lebanon and that the Syrian air defence systems intercepted most of the missiles. No one was reported injured, but property was damaged.
- The IDF is investigating the possibility that a Syrian missile missed its target and landed in the sea close to the coast. Previously there have been reports of stray missiles landing near Cyprus.
- Meanwhile yesterday, the first Iranian fuel oil cargo arrived in Lebanon, where Hezbollah will now transfer it to Syria by trucks. Reuters quotes a source: “Choosing to receive the vessel via Syria is not related to any fear of targeting by Israel or the US but is due to internal considerations related to not wanting to implicate any allies.”
Context: The alleged Israeli strike on military targets is part of the long-standing policy the ‘campaign between the wars’. Over the last five years Israel has hit hundreds of military targets in an effort to prevent Iran entrenchment in Syria.
- Over the last month, there have been three similar incidents according to Syrian sources of Israeli Air Force targeting Iranian or Hezbollah military assets.
- Earlier this week, Yossi Cohen, the recently retired Mossad director, wrote in Yediot Ahronot: “Iran has not stopped its efforts to shore up its military capabilities in the region for a single moment. In Lebanon it has been bolstering Hezbollah. In Syria it maintains an active presence of the Revolutionary Guards and helps bring weapons into the country in addition to manufacturing them locally.”
- During his trip to the US, Prime Minister Bennett presented to US President Joe Biden a new plan countering Iran through a combination of many small actions across several fronts, including its military entrenchment in Syria and weapon transfers to Hezbollah. Biden spoke of the US’s “unwavering commitment” to Israel’s security and its right to defend itself.
- Israel has also maintained its ‘deconfliction mechanism’ with Russia to avoid arial entanglements. Last month the new National Security Council Director Eyal Hulata and his predecessor, Meir Ben-Shabbat visited Moscow and met with Security Council of Russia Secretary Nikolai Patrushev.
- Also in southern Syria, Iran and Hezbollah have been assisting Syrian forces laying siege to Daraa, the largest city in southern Syria. The aim is to subdue the rebels that remain and exile their commanders and their families to the strip in northern Syria that is under Turkish control.
Looking forward: Although the IDF do not always formally acknowledge striking inside Syria, it is expected to continue its activity against Iran and Iranian-backed forces there.
- Israel and Jordan will continue to monitor the situation in Daraa as the latest ceasefire is expected to end over the weekend.
- In the longer term there is concern the fall of Daraa will compound Iranian proxies and Hezbollah’s capacity to expand their front against Israel from the east towards the southern Golan.
- Following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Israel is hoping the US maintains its existing presence in Syria and Iraq, to prevent further Iranian expansion.