A former IDF intelligence chief warned that Israel should be prepared for a variety of different responses by Iran or its proxies after two waves of alleged Israeli airstrikes targeted sites belonging to the Syrian Army and Iranian and pro-Iranian forces throughout Syria on Tuesday night.
“The Iranians and their proxies will search for ways to respond to and deter Israel,” tweeted Amos Yadlin, former IDF Intelligence chief and executive director of the Institute for National Security Studies, on Wednesday, adding that Israel must prepare for a full spectrum of possible responses by the “Shi’ite axis in which Nasrallah has entered into [former IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem] Soleimani’s shoes as a strategist and central operator.”
The former IDF intelligence chief pointed to past attempts to fire rockets into Israel and recent cyberattacks targeting Israeli businesses and infrastructure.
Referring to the economic crisis in Syria, Lebanon and Iran, Yadlin stated that these difficulties could moderate possible responses, but could also accelerate and push to divert attention to external conflict.
Yadlin added that the airstrikes on Tuesday night show that reports that the Iranians were leaving Syria were “wishful thinking,” explaining that Iran was continuing to widen the area where it was establishing itself in Syria. Yadlin stressed that As-Suwayda, the location of some of the strikes, is located in an area in which Russia had promised that Iran and Hezbollah would not have access to.
Syrian air defenses responded to an alleged Israeli airstrike near Hama in western-central Syria late on Tuesday night, just hours after alleged Israeli airstrikes targeted sites in southern and eastern Syria, according to the Syrian state news agency SANA.
The second wave of strikes targeted multiple sites near Hama including warehouses used by Iranian militias to store weapons and ammunition, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). Casualties were reported due to the strike. According to the Step News Agency, the strikes destroyed an Iranian arms shipment that had arrived from the Iranian Imam Ali base in the Deir Ezzor region of eastern Syria.
Images reportedly from the area on Wednesday morning showed a number of damaged and destroyed structures.
متداول|| آثار القصف الإسرائيلي على مواقع للميليشيات الإيرانية وميليشيا الدفاع الوطني شرق حماة pic.twitter.com/tPAymcpJeb— وكالة شاهد agency_shahed (@agency_shahed) June 24, 2020
Three civilians were injured by shrapnel from the airstrike, according to Sputnik news, which added that the strike was carried out from the Syrian-Iraqi border. According to the German news agency DPA, over 15 Syrian soldiers were killed and wounded in the airstrikes near Hama.
A military source told SANA that Israeli airstrikes targeted several locations in Saburah and Salamiyah near Hama, adding that Syrian air defenses had succeeded in dropping most of the incoming missiles and that only limited material damage was caused. Video reportedly from the scene showed large fires and an extended series of large explosions in Salamiyah.
בסוריה מדווחים על תקיפה נוספת במרחב חמה. ננסה להרחיב pic.twitter.com/0Ln5kphp4D— אינטלי טיימס - INTELLI TIMES (@IntelliTimes) June 23, 2020
Just hours before the strikes near Hama, seven Syrian soldiers and Iranian militants were killed, and a number of others were wounded, in alleged Israeli airstrikes in southern and eastern Syria.
Five Iranian militants were killed and a number of others were injured in an airstrike on a site belonging to an Iranian militia in the Deir Ezzor region, according to SOHR.
At least two Syrian air force soldiers were killed and a number of others were wounded in a simultaneous strike on a communications center and radar in Tel el-Sahn near As-Suwayda. Extensive damage was caused to the site and a fire broke out in the area, according to SOHR.
An Iranian arms shipment arrived in the As-Suwayda area on Tuesday morning, according to Al-Arabiya.
The director of the SOHR, Rami Abdulrahman, stated that the strikes on Tuesday night were “among the largest strikes carried out by Israel on Syrian soil.”
A military source told SANA that hostile aircraft came from east and northeast of Palmyra and fired several missiles towards Syrian military positions in Kobajjep in the Deir Ezzor region of eastern Syria and near As-Suwayda in southern Syria. In the strike on As-Suwayda, two soldiers were killed and another four were injured, according to the military source.
Palmyra is located in the Homs Governorate of central Syria.
Targets belonging to Iranian forces and Iranian-backed militias are often struck by airstrikes by unidentified aircraft in the Deir Ezzor area.
The last airstrike attributed to Israel in Syria was in early June, when at least nine people were killed in alleged Israeli strike targeting Syrian defense factories near the city of Masyaf in northwest Syria, according to Syrian reports.
Syrian air defenses had claimed they were trying to interdict drones on the night of June 22 so it is clear that Syria is on high alert and has been following tensions in the region. Damascus is suffering dearly from new US sanctions and there have been protests and many issues around the divided country. For instance a Turkish drone strike was reported near Kobane on June 23 as well. The area where the air defenses said there was activity is known as Tel al-Sahn, sometimes known as “radar dish hill” and was targeted by airstrikes on May 10, 2018.
The area of As-Suwayda is populated by Druze, but the area of Tel al-Sahn is in the countryside and faces a desert area where there are sometimes rumors of ISIS activity.
Jason Brodsky, Policy Director at United Against a Nuclear Iran noted on social media that the air defense activation near Deir Ezzor comes days “after drone strikes killed 12 Iran-backed Afghan and Iraqi fighters in Deir Ezzor.”
Seth J. Frantzman contributed to this report.