Airstrikes were reported in Syria’s Homs governorate in the early morning hours of Saturday, and they come at an important juncture in the region; Jordan is hosting the Syrian regime this week and Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi is scheduled to travel to Damascus. Other reports indicated that Saudi Arabia may be interested in using its newfound ties with Iran to discuss issues with Hezbollah, either directly or indirectly, about the future president of Lebanon. As well, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian recently visited Lebanon.
Syria is an important player today because it intersects with major tectonic changes in the region, changes that relate to diplomatic developments. Syrian officials recently met with Turkish, Russian and Iranian officials in Moscow, which means that some countries see Syria as a diplomatic option. Airstrikes, then, as a move, are different from diplomacy – because Damascus still enables Iran to traffic weapons to Hezbollah through Syria.
Regional media did not miss the airstrikes. Pro-Syria regime media Al-Mayadeen reported that three were wounded in the strikes due to a fire that started in a fuel tank.
The Alma Research and Education Center, which covers security issues in Israel’s northern borders, put out several posts on social media about the airstrikes. One tweet noted that “An airstrike was carried out in the area of Al Dabaa airport (southwest of Homs) and in the area of Shinshar (south of Homs).” It added that “in the past week, the activity of a medium-sized Iranian Antonov 74 cargo plane belonging to the YasAir airline was detected several times, apparently flying to and from Dabaa airport. In this airfield, there is Shia axis and Hezbollah activity.” It also notes that Shinshar contains warehouses and hangars; the town is near a Syrian air defense base.
“At this point,” the tweet continues, “we do not have recent photographs of Dabaa or the industrial area and it is not clear where exactly the attack was carried out. It is possible that the purpose of the attack is related to the arrival of the Iranian plane last week, the storage of the cargo it brought with it and the shutdown of the airfield (hitting its routes).”
The Syria-Lebanon border
The research continues, noting that the area is near Qusayr – in Syria but on the Lebanese border. Hezbollah moved into this area in 2012, a year after the Syrian Civil War began. Iran shifted weapons deliveries to Hezbollah via northern Syria, using the cover of earthquake aid to funnel deliveries to Aleppo over the past several months, while online sleuths have geolocated areas where the airstrikes took place.
KAN Arab Affairs reporter Roi Kais noted in a tweet that “the target of tonight’s attack in Syria was a convoy of trucks that passed through the continental route and contained ammunition for Hezbollah.” He added that “the people involved in it, as in previous cases, are the familiar figures – Hajj Fadi, head of Hezbollah’s Unit 4,400, Behnam Shahriyari, head of Unit 190 in the Quds Force and Sayed Razi head The Iranian aid bureau.”
A 2019 report from Israel Hayom noted that Fadi is “a senior official in Hezbollah, someone who has the ear of both Damascus and Tehran. He is responsible for smuggling weapons and money for the radical axis, using a corridor that stretches from Tehran to Lebanon, via Syria. Qasir, who lives in the shadows, is better known as Fadi, and is a key player in the Hezbollah machine. Although he is not a combatant, his position has made him a dominant figure in the organization and – as his presence in Tehran indicates – outside Hezbollah, as well.”
2022 US sanctions
In May 2022, the US sanctioned one of these men: “The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is designating an international oil smuggling and money laundering network led by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF) officials that has facilitated the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of Iranian oil for both the IRGC-QF and Hezballah. This oil smuggling network, led by US-designated IRGC-QF official Behnam Shahriyari.”
Of the three, it is not clear who Razi is. He could be the man identified as Razi Musavi, who was noted in a 2019 Critical Threats piece as a man who is a key conduit for Iranian support for Hezbollah, based in Damascus.
The latest airstrikes – which pro-Iran media alleges Israel was behind – are yet another example of how Iran destabilizes Syria by moving weapons through the country to Hezbollah. It undermines any attempt to reduce Iran’s octopus-like entrenchment there.