Israel resumes airstrikes in Syria with attack outside Damascus

Raf Sanchez
Israeli aircraft hit three Hizbollah arms depots south of Damascus - REUTERS

Israeli jets struck reportedly struck Hizbollah targets outside Damascus on Tuesday, reasserting Israeli airpower in Syria after several months of restraint following the accidental downing of a Russian military plane

The air raid was the first since Donald Trump announced he was pulling US troops out of Syria, prompting Israel’s government to say it would continue and expand its fight against Iran and its proxies in the country. 

The Israeli aircraft hit three Hizbollah arms depots south of Damascus, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Syrian state media said three Syrian regime soldiers were wounded in the attack. 

Israel’s military refused to comment, as is its custom with air strikes in Syria. However, it said that it fired air defence weapons in response to a Syrian anti-aircraft missile that was launched on Tuesday night. No injuries or damage was reported.  

Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes against Iran, Hizbollah, and occasionally the Syrian regime as part of its campaign to prevent Iranian forces and their allies from entrenching in Syria.

However, Israel has been more muted in its attacks since September, when a Russian military aircraft got caught up in an aerial battle over Damascus and was accidentally shot down by Syrian air defence systems. 

All 15 Russian servicemen onboard were killed and Russia blamed Israel for their deaths, accusing Israeli pilots of maneuvering behind the Russian aircraft when they were fired upon by the Syrian regime. 

Israel denied that its pilots took cover behind the Russian plane and sent a senior delegation to Moscow to try to calm Russian anger over the incident. 

Tuesday night’s attack was the largest air raid since the downing of the Russian plane. It was also the first attack since Mr Trump alarmed Israel by announcing that he was pulling US forces out of Syria. 

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, vowed that he would continue to fight against Iran and Hizbollah even after the US withdrew.  

"We will continue to act very aggressively against Iran's efforts to entrench in Syria,” Mr Netanyahu said last week. "We do not intend to reduce our efforts. We will intensify them, and I know that we do so with the full support and backing of the United States."

Analysts said Tuesday’s large strike was a sign of Israel’s intention to resume regular attacks in Syria. 

“Israel is signaling that from its perspective, it's business as usual again: Despite Trump's announcement and despite Russia's fury about its Ilyushin plane getting shot down last September, Israel sees itself as free to continue attacking targets in Syria, when necessary,” said Amos Harel, a military analyst with the Haaretz newspaper.