The Syrian army confirmed Sunday that several military bases in northern Syria were struck in an attack blamed on Israel by the Hezbollah-affiliated newspaper Al Akhbar.
According to official news agency SANA, a military source said that “some military sites in the countryside of Hama and Aleppo provinces were exposed at 10:30 PM to a new aggression with hostile rockets.”
The explosions following the strike registered as a 2.6 magnitude earthquake by the European Mediterranean Seismological Center, but the weapons used did not cause the quake. Over 18 people were killed and another 60 were wounded, Sky News Arabia reported citing regime media.
Al Akhbar reported the targets of the strike were Syrian army bases being used by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and Shi'ite militias with troops from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Hezbollah’s Al Mayadeen reported missiles also struck targets in the Al-Malikiyah area, north of the Aleppo’s airport.
Iran's Tasnim news agency denied that its bases were hit.
According to some reports the target in Hama, an army base known as Brigade 47, was an underground missile production facility and depot for surface-to-surface missile funded by Iran and built with the help of North Korea. Located near Hama, it was also widely known as a recruitment center for Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias who fight alongside President Bashar Assad's force.
Unconfirmed reports stated that an Iranian general was killed in the strike on Brigade 47 and former IDF intelligence chief Major General Amos Yadlin warned of a more volatility if Iranians were indeed killed in the strike.
"If the casualties were Syrians, they would simply be another addition to the half million people already killed in the civil war to this day. If they are Iranians, it will be added to the unfinished business they have with us, and then the month of May will be very volatile,” he said on Army Radio.
Tensions have risen dramatically between the two arch-enemies in recent months.
In February an armed Iranian drone infiltrated northern Israel in a move which the IDF claims was on a sabotage attack mission. In mid-April a strike on the T4 airbase in Homs province blamed on Israel killed seven IRGC soldiers, including Col. Mehdi Dehghan, who led the drone unit operating out of the base. Reports later surfaced that advanced Iranian Air defenses had been the target of the strike.
Referring to Iran's promises to respond to the alleged attack by Israel on a T-4 base in early April, Yadlin stated that the target of the attack may have been based on intelligence that Iran was preparing the retaliatory strike that Tehran has warned is coming.
"We have to investigate whether the attack came in response to weapon transfers to Hezbollah, to Iranian infrastructure being built in Syria or whether there was intelligence about Tehran's possible response and a decision was made to thwart it."
According to Michael Horowitz, Director of Intelligence at Le Beck, a Middle East-based geopolitical consulting group, Israel has stepped up its frequency of strikes and the nature of targets which have been attacked have changed.
“There’s been a clear change in Israel’s strategy in Syria since last year." According to foreign source, alleged "Israeli strikes are both hitting targets deeper inside Syria and the nature of these targets has change from weapons convoy and depots to actual Iranian bases,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
According to Horowitz, the strike on the Taqsis base in Hama “is very significant” as “such factories that produce ballistic missiles could help Iran gain game-changing capabilities to be used in a potential confrontation with Israel, by significantly increasing the number of precision-guided missiles within Hezbollah’s arsenal.
“It is also notable because of the challenge striking such a facility represents. The Taqsis base is built inside a mountain," and Israel, had it carried out the attack, "would have had to use advanced weapons, such as bunker busters, to hit it,” he said, adding that “a successful such strike would send a clear message of deterrence to Iran that even underground facilities (including other missile-production sites in Syria or Lebanon and even nuclear-related sites in Iran) are within Israel’s reach.”
Earlier on Sunday Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman stated that the Jewish State would not respond forcibly if any rockets are launched toward Israel or Israeli jets.
“If someone thinks that it is possible to launch missiles to Israeli cities or our aircraft, no doubt we will respond and we will respond very forcefully,” he said at The Jerusalem Post conference in New York when asked by Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief of the Post.
“We will keep our freedom of operation in all of Syria. We have no intention to attack Russia or to interfere in domestic Syrian issues. But if somebody thinks that it is possible to launch missiles or to attack Israel or even our aircraft, no doubt we will respond and we will respond very forcefully.”
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