Suspected Israeli airstrike in Syria kills four people

What happened: Syrian sources reported four people were killed in an airstrike near Palmyra in the Homs area, early Thursday morning.

  • According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) the fatalities were a Syrian soldier and three foreign citizens affiliated with pro-Iranian militias.
  • Official Syrian sources said the attack targeted a communications tower, whilst the SOHR report that the target was inside the Iranian-linked T-4 military base.
  • The strike was met with rare joint statement from Iranian proxies published by Hezbollah-affiliated Al Mayadeen, warning: “Israeli and American planes launched an aggression against positions belonging to the resistance alliance near the city of Palmyra. The targets were a youth recruitment centre and other service facilities. As a result of the attack, several mujahideen were martyred and others were wounded.  Accordingly, we declare three things. First, our mission and presence in Syria are of utmost legitimacy and are at the behest and oversight of the Syrian country, with the aim of fighting the takfiri project (against Sunni Islamic groups) led by the Islamic state group. Second, for years now, the Israeli and American enemy has attacked us in an effort to drag us into side-battles that are not the purpose of our presence in Syria. The Zionists’ excuse is that they are attacking precision weapons that represent a threat to their thievish entity. Third, in accordance with the fact that the attack was carried out from Jordanian territory and occupied territory by the Americans in Syria, we have made the decision to retaliate for the blood of our fighters who were killed and wounded. The response will be harsh.”
  • According to the Russian Defence Ministry on this occasion the Syrian military decided not to activate its aerial anti-missile defence systems during the air strike because two civilian airplanes had been in firing range. The flights were headed to Beirut and Damascus.

Context: This is the second alleged Israeli airstrike in Syria within a week.  On Saturday, two Iran-backed militants were killed after a Syrian military air base also in the Homs area was struck.

  • Israel has acknowledged that it has carried out hundreds of airstrikes inside Syria in the last six years, in an effort to prevent advanced ‘game changing’ weapons being transferred to Hezbollah and against Iranian efforts to open up another front against Israel using proxy militias. However, there are many instances of reported attacks where Israel does not formally comment.
  • The Syrian army regularly attempts to intercept the Israeli missiles using the Russian anti-missile system. There has been concern that Russia would upgrade their system that may challenge Israel’s air superiority.
  • At the same time, the supremacy of the Israeli Air Force is further enhanced due to the deconfliction mechanism between Israel and Russia.
  • The Russian position was forged based partially on close personal ties between former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Earlier this week Barak Ravid in Axios reported that “shortly after Naftali Bennett was sworn in as prime minister … the Russian ambassador to Israel, Anatoly Viktorov, visited Netanyahu bearing a personal letter from Putin which described their time working together. Netanyahu read the letter and told the Russian ambassador: ‘Tell President Putin I will be back soon.'”
  • Next week Israel and Russia will mark 30 years of diplomatic relations.  This morning Yediot Ahronot published parallel op-eds by foreign ministers Yair Lapid and Sergei Lavrov, noting a ”shared heritage and a shared future”.
  • Lavrov articulated his country’s foreign policy, stating: “Russia is pursuing an independent multi-vector foreign policy, contemplating pragmatism, the search for compromises and the observance of balances of interests. We have no ideological likes and dislikes, or any taboos in relations with our foreign partners … we are interested in continuing consultations with our Israeli partners on security and stability issues in the Middle East. We always draw attention to the fact that comprehensive solutions to the problems of the region must necessarily take into account the security interests of Israel. This is a matter of principle.”

Looking ahead: Israel is expected to keep up the ‘campaign between the wars’ targeting Iranian proxies and weapon shipments as part of an ongoing effort to prevent Iranian military entrenchment in Syria.

  • On the 18th October, Israel and Russia mark 30 years of diplomatic ties. Next Friday Prime Minister Bennett will fly to Sochi to meet Russian President Putin. The pair will discuss the Syrian theatre, the Iranian nuclear programme and other diplomatic and economic issues.

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