The Kremlin condemned an alleged Israeli strike against Damascus International Airport on Thursday, urging Israel and other countries to avoid carrying out any action that could heighten tensions in the region.
“We continue to consider that all countries need to refrain from any kind of actions that lead to an increase in tension in this already restive region and call for respect of the sovereignty of Syria,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova later slammed the alleged Israeli strikes, calling them unacceptable.
“Gross violations of Syrian sovereignty, no matter how they are justified, are unacceptable,” she said, adding that “Moscow condemns acts of aggression against Syria.”
Earlier Thursday Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said that the reports of an air strike targeting Damascus Airport matches Israel’s policy of preventing the transfer of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah.
Katz, while not confirming outright that Israel struck the airport, stated that the “attack is consistent with our policy to prevent Iran’s smuggling of advanced weapons via Syria to Hezbollah by Iran.”
Katz, who is in the United States meeting with senior officials, made the comment after Arab media reported that Israel attacked a Hezbollah arms hub near Damascus airport with five sorties at around 3:25 a.m. No injuries were reported, but a large fireball was seen by locals.
Iranian Defense Minister Brig.-Gen. Hossein Dehghan also condemned the alleged strike and Syria’s official news agency SANA stated that Israel had fired “several missiles” from inside the Golan Heights “in a desperate attempt to raise the collapsed morale of terrorist groups due to the Syrian Army’s blows, and this aggression will not dissuade the army from continuing the war.”
According to an intelligence source who spoke to Reuters, the arms depot handles a large amount of weapons supplied by Iran, which regularly sends weapons to Syria via commercial and military cargo planes to Hezbollah and other Iranian- backed militias fighting for the regime of Bashar Assad.
Iran has been accused of using commercial planes to ferry troops and weapons into Syria. In 2011, Iran Air was singled out by the US Treasury in part due to its role in transporting “potentially dangerous Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-related cargo” as well as “missile or rocket components” to Syria. Sanctions against the airline were dropped in 2015 as part of the nuclear deal, but there continue to be indications that the airline flies in weapons and troops to the wartorn country.
According to Farzin Nadimi, a Washington-based analyst specializing in the security and defense affairs of Iran and the Persian Gulf region, “Iranian and Syrian airlines have hauled about 21,000 passengers between Tehran/Abadan and Damascus in the past two months alone, along with over 5,000 tons of supplies.”
Nadimi, who made the comment in a briefing for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, stated that all the flights are “fully chartered by the IRGC and usually unavailable to the general public,” and that the flights are also operated only at nighttime “in order to hinder satellite monitoring.”
According to a flight radar tracking site, flightradar24.com., four Iranian cargo planes had landed at Damascus Airport just hours before the alleged strike.
Israel has reiterated its view several times that any transfer of advanced weaponry to the Lebanese Shi’ite terrorist group is a redline and that it will work to prevent any such movement.
While the IDF neither confirms nor denies the strikes, on Tuesday in a rare admission a senior officer said that last month Israel destroyed some 100 Syrian missiles, many of which were due to be delivered to Hezbollah.
On Wednesday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who is in Moscow for a security conference, said that Israel is concerned about Iranian activity in Syria and that Tehran is using Syria as a base for arms smuggling to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel, he said, “will not allow Iranian and Hezbollah forces to be amassed on the Golan Heights border.”