Monday 15 July 2019

Airstrikes in Syria ramp up tension between Iran and Israel

Blast: Smoke rises from the site of a car bomb attack on the checkpoint in Shadadi, Syria, yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Blast: Smoke rises from the site of a car bomb attack on the checkpoint in Shadadi, Syria, yesterday. Photo: Reuters

Raf Sanchez

Israeli airstrikes in Syria killed 11 Iranian and pro-Assad fighters early yesterday, in the most serious direct combat between Iranian and Israeli forces in the past six months.

An Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) suicide car bomb, meanwhile, killed five Kurdish fighters as they patrolled with US troops in northern Syria, the third such attack on Western forces and their allies this month. No Americans were harmed.

The two incidents, within hours of each other, illustrate how chaotic and complex the battlefield in Syria remains, even as the civil war winds down and US forces prepare to withdraw troops.

Israeli warplanes attacked bases belonging to Iran's elite Quds Force early yesterday after an Iranian missile was fired from Syria towards the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights on Sunday, the Israeli military said. Among the targets was the Quds Force's main weapons depot at Damascus airport.

The midrange surface-to-surface Iranian missile was shot down by Israel's Iron Dome defence system. Israeli skiers on Mount Hermon filmed a pair of interceptor missiles streaking over the ski slopes towards their target.

There were no injuries on the Israeli side. The missile appears to have been fired in response to a rare Israeli daytime air raid against Iranian bases earlier on Sunday. Israeli warplanes also targeted Syrian regime air defence systems after they fired on attacking Israeli jets.

By yesterday afternoon, the situation was calm but tense and Israeli forces remained on high alert.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said the Israeli attacks had killed 11 people, including Iranian troops, Hezbollah fighters and at least two Syrians. It was the highest death toll from an Israeli strike since May 2018, when waves of Israeli airstrikes killed at least 23 Iranian and Syrian fighters.

Israel is determined to continue its campaign to stop Iran from entrenching in Syria despite Donald Trump's decision to withdraw US forces.

It warned the Syrian regime that it "was putting itself at risk" by allowing Iranian forces to use its territory for strikes against Israel.

"Syria yesterday paid a price for allowing Iran to plan and conduct attacks from its soil," a spokesman said.

Aziz Nasirzadeh, the head of Iran's air force, responded that his forces were "impatient to confront the Zionist regime and eliminate it from the Earth".

The suicide car bomb attack took place near a checkpoint on a road near the town of al-Shadadi in Hasakah province, where Syrian Democratic Forces fighters were patrolling with US troops. Isil claimed the attack through its official Amaq media channel. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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