Israel has stepped up covert attacks in Syria against weapons sites, supply routes and commanders linked to Iran, seven regional officials and diplomats said, ahead of a threat of a full-scale attack on Tehran’s main ally Hezbollah in Lebanon.

A June 2 airstrike that killed 18 people, including an adviser to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, targeted a fortified clandestine weapons site near Aleppo, three of the sources said. In May, an airstrike hit a convoy of trucks heading to Lebanon carrying missile parts and another attack killed Hezbollah operatives, four said.

Mourners gather near the coffin of Hezbollah member Jaafar Serhan, who was killed while deployed in Syria with Hezbollah, during his funeral in Mashghara, Lebanon, November 13, 2023. REUTERS/Aziz Taher/File Photo

Israel has been attacking militant groups backed by arch-enemy Iran in Syria and elsewhere for years, in a low-level campaign that erupted into open confrontation after Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas – another Iranian ally – went to war in Gaza on the day October 7th.

Since then, Israel has killed dozens of Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) and Hezbollah officers in Syria, up from just two last year before the Oct. 7 attack, according to a tally by the Washington-based Institute for Near East Policy. , a think tank.

The battle came to a head in April when Israel bombed the Iranian consulate in Damascus, killing the IRGC’s top commander for operations in the Levant. In retaliation, Iran fired around 300 missiles and drones at Israel, almost all of which were shot down. Israel then attacked Iranian territory with drones.

This direct confrontation, unprecedented between the two countries, stopped there. Israel also briefly reduced the number of attacks it carried out against Iranian proxies, said Selin Uysal, a French diplomat posted to the Washington Institute, citing the tally, which tallied publicly known attacks in the weeks immediately preceding and following.

“There was a slowdown” after the clash in April, she said.

“But they are increasing again due to suspected Iranian arms transfers to Lebanon. There is a kinetic effort in Syria and Lebanon to disrupt the supply chain between Iran and Hezbollah.”

Reuters interviewed three Syrian officials, an Israeli government official and three Western diplomats about Israel’s campaign in Syria. Officials requested anonymity to speak freely about sensitive matters.

Syrian officials have given previously undisclosed details about the targets of Israeli attacks on the cities of Aleppo and Homs in recent months, including the June 2 attack.

All those interviewed said Israel’s moves suggested the country was preparing for a full-scale war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, which borders Syria, which could begin when Israel scales back its campaign in Gaza.

“Our leaders’ statements were clear that escalation could be imminent in Lebanon,” the Israeli government official said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week that his country was prepared for “very strong action” on its border with Lebanon, where it has been fighting a so far limited battle with Hezbollah since October 8.

War in Lebanon is not inevitable. Israel also indicated openness to diplomatic efforts mediated by Washington and France. The Israeli government official said the campaign in Syria was also aimed at weakening Hezbollah and thus discouraging it from war with Israel.

The Israeli government and military did not respond to questions for this article. Israel rarely publicly acknowledges targeted killings abroad and has not commented on recent attacks in Syria. A senior Israeli official said last year that Israel was determined to prevent Syria from becoming part of a new front.

The IRGC and a Syrian government spokesperson did not respond. Hezbollah declined to comment.


Syria, a former Iranian ally, became the main conduit for Tehran’s arms supply to Hezbollah after Iran deployed military personnel and thousands of allied paramilitaries around 2013 to help President Bashar al-Assad during the ongoing civil war in your country.

Some weapon parts are smuggled into Syria, while others are assembled there, the three Syrian officials said.

Israel’s campaign in Syria aims to ensure that Hezbollah, Iran’s most loyal ally and the linchpin of Tehran’s regional power projection through militant proxies, is as weak as possible before any kind of fighting begins, Syrian officials said. and Israelis.

The June 2 assassination of Saeed Abyar, described by Iranian state media as an IRGC adviser, showed Israel’s reach in withdrawing key personnel and choosing equipment, even as Iran tried new methods of securing weapons. and parts destined for Hezbollah, Syrian officials said. including the transfer of weapons manufacturing to more hidden or fortified locations.

Abyar was visiting a Hezbollah missile factory that was hidden inside a quarry east of the city of Aleppo when he was hit, Syrian officials said. “The facility was in an area designed to be difficult to find and difficult to reach,” said one of the officials, an intelligence officer.

Iran blamed Israel for Sunday’s attack and the head of the IRGC vowed to retaliate.

Authorities said the attack killed 17 other people, including Iran-aligned militiamen. It was the IRGC’s first target since Israel bombed the Iranian consulate, they said.

But it is not the only attack carried out since then.

An airstrike near the Syrian city of Homs on May 29 targeted a vehicle carrying parts for guided missiles from Syria to Lebanon, the Syrian intelligence official said. Another attack on May 20 targeted members of Hezbollah, the official said.

Before the attack on the Iranian consulate, a series of airstrikes in late March around Aleppo hit warehouses storing explosives for missile warheads, the official said.

Other attacks have targeted Syrian air defense systems that in recent years have given Hezbollah and the Iranian military some security to operate, including Russian-made Pantsir air defense systems, mobile missile launchers that the Syrian military uses, a military official said. Syrian. Other attacks targeted early warning radar systems, the official said.

“In some cases, Israel is attacking before we even install our equipment,” the official said.

The Israeli government official said Israel’s targets were advanced anti-aircraft weapons, heavy rockets and precision guidance systems for missiles.


The number of Israeli attacks in Syria increased dramatically after October 7, when Israel and Hamas went to war.

“Attendance has doubled,” said Uysal of the Washington Institute.

Israel carried out 50 airstrikes in Syria in the six months after the war in Gaza began, she said. “These included attacks on Aleppo Airport, Nairab Military Airport, Damascus Airport and Mezzeh Military Airport, which are key in arms transfers. Weapon caches were also among the targets.”

The attacks included the deaths of around 20 IRGC personnel and more than 30 Hezbollah commanders, Uysal said. Between January and October 2023, two IRGC officers and no Hezbollah commanders were killed by Israeli strikes in Syria, Uysal said.

“Attacks in Syria certainly disrupt arms and ammunition deliveries and harm Hezbollah or Iran’s ability to organize,” said Reichman University’s Lior Akerman, a former brigadier general in Israel’s internal security service.

Iran sends a limited number of advisers to Syria, such as the senior IRGC officials who were killed in the consulate bombing. Hezbollah has deployed thousands of fighters there.

Hezbollah official Nawaf Musawi told the Iran-aligned Al Mayadeen TV channel in March that the group was opening new ammunition depots “and receiving more precision missiles and better quality weapons by land, sea and air.” .”

Farzan Sabet, a senior fellow at the Geneva Graduate Institute who specializes in Iranian foreign policy, said attacks on Israel by Hezbollah and Iran’s allies in Iraq and Yemen during the Gaza war have had an impact on Israel.

“But it killed many more Hezbollah operatives and senior figures, including IRGC personnel in Syria, so on balance it’s a bigger loss” for Iran’s allies, Sabet said.

Via Reuters.


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