Syrian state television said on Sunday that Israeli jets had bombed targets near Damascus International Airport and in the town of Dimas, near the border with Lebanon.
A Lebanese TV correspondent reported that Israel struck 10 crucial intelligence-linked locations in Syria that belong to Iran. The outlet reported that explosions were heard near the Israeli-Lebanese border, allegedly the result of IDF maneuvers.
The IAF has struck Syria several times since the start of the three-year conflict, mostly destroying weaponry such as missiles that Israeli officials said were destined for their longtime foe Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon.
Last week, the Lebanese Daily Star reported the army said it had fired anti-aircraft guns at an IDF drone flying low over the eastern part of the country.
“The Israeli enemy committed aggression against Syria by targeting two safe areas in Damascus province, in all of Dimas and near the Damascus International Airport,” state television said, adding that there were no casualties.
An IDF spokesman said he would not comment on “foreign reports.”
At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel was following developments in the Middle East with great interest, because “a great deal is happening.”
“We will remain constantly with our hand on the pulse, and we will deal with these threats and challenges because they do not take a time-out,” Netanyahu said.
“We will deal with them with the same degree of responsibility that we have done up until now.”
Prof. Eyal Zisser, an expert on Syria from the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, “Israel’s policy is clear. It does not interfere in the war and has no interest to attack [Syrian President] Bashar Assad and its army, or to topple the regime.”
However, he said that “Israel took advantage several times in the past of Assad’s weakness and acted against arms shipments on their way from Syria to Hezbollah.”
In the past, no one had any interest in opening up another front and everyone acted to contain the fallout, said Zisser, adding: “Let’s hope that will happen this time.”
Residents in Damascus said they heard loud explosions, and opposition activists posted photos online of jet streams in the evening sky and fiery explosions. Syrian Army general command said on state television that there were “material losses in some facilities.”
It said the strike benefited al-Qaida.
Syria’s state news agency SANA said the strikes were a “flagrant attack on Syria,” while the official news agency in Lebanon said Israeli jets breached its airspace on Sunday.
“The general command said this attack proves Israel’s direct involvement in supporting terrorists in Syria against which the armed forces are fighting,” reported SANA.
A resident in the Damascus suburb of Kudsaya, close to Dimas, said the agricultural airport in Dimas was hit.
Dimas is in a mountainous area to the northwest of the capital, which is under government control and close to several military installations.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the conflict through a network of sources on both sides, said that 10 explosions were heard near Dimas. It said that one missile hit a warehouse for imports and exports at Damascus International Airport.
Tony Badran, a columnist for the Beirut-based website NOW Lebanon and a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Post that striking a target in Dimas makes sense, as it could be that some weapons had landed at the airport and were en route to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The location of the reported strike is between Damascus and the Lebanese border. The shipment could have been set to be transferred across the border through familiar smuggling routes in the area, or, for that matter, even pass through the nearby official border crossing.
However, the most likely option is that it was an Iranian shipment of weapons, said Badran.
This comes after reports last month that Russia may be seeking to send arms, including the S-300 missile defense system to Syria, although in this instance, a Russian arms shipment is seen as less likely.
“Syria approached Moscow seeking an additional deterrent,” beyond US pledges not to attack Assad in its anti-Islamic State campaign, said Badran, adding that this assumes that a delivery was made.
However, Badran said that Assad is low on cash and probably would have difficulty paying the Russians for any weaponry – unless it was paid for by Iran.