Israel strikes Syrian port in Tartus - Syrian media

This is the fifth attack attributed to Israel in two months in Syrian territory.

 Missile fire is seen over Damascus, Syria January 21, 2019.  (photo credit: SANA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Missile fire is seen over Damascus, Syria January 21, 2019.

Syrian media reports claimed that the Israeli Air Force (IAF) reportedly conducted an airstrike near the port city of Tartus in western Syria on Wednesday. Reports at Iran International said that several soldiers were killed in the strike which targeted air defense sites. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said that an arms depot linked to Hezbollah was struck, while Iranian media blamed Israel for the attack.

Syrian air defense systems were activated in response to the alleged attack, and most of the missiles launched in the attack were intercepted, Israeli media reported. The details of the specific locations that were hit were not provided. Syrian casualties include two soldiers killed and another six wounded, Reuters reported, citing Syrian state media. The Al-Mayadeen TV news channel, which is considered pro-Iran, said that the air strikes took place after five in the afternoon, during daylight. Smoke could be seen billowing into the sunset later that evening.

The last time Israel was accused of a daylight airstrike was in May in northwestern Syria, as well as last October, near Damascus. Iran’s Tasnim News Agency said the strike hit al-Jamasa airbase.

Attacks against Syria attributed to Israel have reportedly been frequent

This is the fifth attack attributed to Israel in Syrian territory in the past two months, according to Walla news. Explosions were heard at the scene, Russian-state media source Sputnik reported, citing a high-ranking security official at the scene. Israel has staged hundreds of strikes against alleged Iranian targets in Syria in recent years but has mostly avoided hitting the coastal provinces where Russia’s main military assets are concentrated.

Tartus is located on the Mediterranean and hosts the site of a Russian naval facility. Because of this, the port is important for Syria’s ties to Iran and for trade as well. In 2020, an Iranian tanker arrived off Tartus, while last September, reports in foreign media said that Russia asked Iran to leave a site in Tartus. Last May, foreign reports accused Israel of airstrikes in Tartus.

Missile fire is seen from Damascus, Syria May 10, 2018. (credit: REUTERS)
Missile fire is seen from Damascus, Syria May 10, 2018. (credit: REUTERS)

In July 2022, a report noted that “Israel reportedly targeted ‘game changing’ Iranian air defenses in Syria. In June another report noted on Twitter that “Syria is a hub for illegal transportation by Iran and Russia.” Then, in August, journalist Yoni Ben Menachem wrote that more reports emerged that Iran moved arms smuggling activity to Tartus. At the same time, Iran International claimed as well that Israel carried out strikes in Tartus, while a member of the IRGC was said to have been killed in a July incident in the same area.

The strikes are part of an escalation of what has been a low-intensity conflict whose goal is to slow down Iran’s growing entrenchment in Syria – Israeli and regional military experts have said. The strikes were close to the Russian navy’s only Mediterranean base in the port of Tartus, where Russian warships are docked, while Moscow’s major Khmeimim air base is also in nearby Latakia province.

Russia has a footprint in and around Tartus and Latakia, which is why Iranian-backed groups want to be in this area to take advantage of what they perceive as the Russian air defense umbrella. Iran shifted some focus to Aleppo in early 2023 to take advantage of an earthquake in Turkey that damaged areas around Aleppo.

Iran used the cover of humanitarian aid to move weapons to Syria. Iran has increasingly sought to move air defenses and other weapons to Syria to benefit Hezbollah.

This week Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, speaking at a security conference at Reichman University said Hezbollah was building an airstrip in southern Lebanon.

Reuters contributed to this report.