Two years of attacks from Syria, increasing escalation show Iran's entrenchment
Syrian state media said this morning that its air defenses were activated against an attack.
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
The rockets fired from Syria just before five in the morning yesterday followed almost two years of escalation on the Syrian front, including actual and attempted drone and rocket attacks. They began in the context of deepening Iranian entrenchment in Syria, and have continued as the Syrian regime re-conquered southern Syria from the Syrian rebels in 2018 – and as tensions between Israel and Iran have grown. They represent Iran’s attempt to create a corridor of power across Iraq and Syria to Lebanon, and to threaten Israel from areas near the Golan.Syrian state media said this morning that its air defenses were activated against an attack. Israel’s former chief of staff said in January that Israel had carried out more than 1,000 attacks on Iranian targets in Syria over the last several years. Syria does not say who fired the rockets at Israel, but the IDF says that four rockets were detected.The wider picture is that there have been more attempts by elements in Syria, including Shi’ite militias backed by the IRGC, to strike at Israel.The first well-known attempt was an Iranian drone flown from Tiyas in Syria that entered Israeli airspace on February 10, 2018, near Beit She’an. It was shot down by an Apache helicopter that was scrambled. It was later shown to be armed. The incident led to Israeli retaliation and to activation of Syrian air defense. An F-16 crashed in northern Israel. This was a major escalation.On May 10 a salvo of rockets fired by the IRGC targeted Israel. This came in the context of rising tensions with Iran. Hezbollah celebrated it as a new era. Israel carried out widespread retaliatory airstrikes against Iranian targets at the time. Reuters reported that Israel struck dozens of targets and air defense.On July 23 the David Sling air defense system was activated for the first time by Israel to confront a missile threat from Syria, but the missiles fell short. One of the David Sling interceptors self-destructed over Syrian territory. A report in Chinese media in early November said that one of the interceptors had been recovered by the Syrian regime.A rocket was fired at Israel by the IRGC Quds Force on January 20. The Iron Dome defense system intercepted the rocket, and Israel carried out immediate retaliation. On August 24, Israel struck a “killer drone” team linked to Hezbollah south of Damascus. The men had tried to launch a drone days earlier near Israel’s Golan.On September 9 an explosion destroyed warehouses at an alleged Iranian base near Albukamal in Syria. Hours later a Shi’ite militia linked to the IRGC attempted to fire rockets at Israel from near Damascus. The rockets failed to reach Israel. On November 12 Arabic media reported that Israel struck a target in Syria, and on November 19, in the context of the recent rocket fire at Israel, Russia’s Sputnik reported that Israel had struck an Islamic Jihad target on November 12.The increasing attempts to strike at Israel by Iran’s IRGC and its local allies such as Hezbollah or Shi’ite militias linked to the Syrian regime and Iraq represent a major escalation. It has now been ratcheting up for two years. However the last months have shown increased attempts. Iran faces challenges in Iraq and Lebanon, and it faces challenges at home over fuel prices. Iran has vowed numerous times to retaliate. Qasem Soleimani, leader of the IRGC Quds Force, has even used social media to threaten Israel.So far the attacks by several rockets at a time and some drones have shown that Iran and its allies are reticent to commit to a major use of their munitions. Hezbollah has more than 150,000 rockets. Israel has said Iran is seeking to transfer precision guidance to Hezbollah. In September, Iran struck at Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil facility with 25 drones and nine cruise missiles. Reports have indicated that Iranian-backed Houthis also have technology to fire extremely long-range rockets.Reports by Reuters in 2018 indicated Iran had sent missiles to Iraqi-based militias. One of those militias targeted Saudi Arabia in May. In addition, rockets have been fired at the Green Zone near the US Embassy, allegedly by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.On November 18, satellite images from Image Sat international, published by Fox News, showed Iran was continuing work on its alleged base near Albukamal. It has festooned warehouses with new berms and may cover them with concrete. This is part of the wider Iranian entrenchment across a swath of land, a kind of land bridge or corridor, stretching across Iraq to Syria and near the Golan. It aims to link Iran directly with Hezbollah as part of a corridor of Iranian power.
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