The Syrian government accused Israel of launching an airstrike on Friday night at around 11:15 PM. SANA, the Syrian state news agency, reported that Syrian army air defenses successfully intercepted “over eight targets” though an ammunitions warehouse adjacent to the airport was hit in the attack. No Syrian casualties were reported.
Sana quoted a Syrian military source as saying, “At 11:15 before midnight Israeli warplanes coming from Al-Jalil area launched many missiles towards Damascus area and our air defenses intercepted them and downed most of them.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the attack targeted missile depots that belong to Hezbollah in the Al-Kiswah area as well. Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV said that Israeli aircraft were also operating in Lebanese airspace. According to Arab media reports, Israeli naval vessels were off the southern Lebanese coast during the attack
On Saturday, the Syrian government filed complaints with the United Nations Security Council and with UN Secretary-General Antonia Guterres. Syria claimed the Israeli attacks were only made possible due to the “military, political and media cover provided by the U.S. administration.”
As per official policy, the Israeli government did not comment on the air attack inside Syrian but Israel has admitted to carrying out such missions. In an interview with the New York Times published on Friday, the outgoing IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot stated that Israel has carried out “thousands” of such attacks in Syria.
“We struck thousands of targets without claiming responsibility or asking for credit,” he said, explaining that the Israeli attacks were initially focused on preventing an Iranian military presence along Israel’s northern border and at disrupting the flow of weapons from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon via Syria. Eisenkot noted a subsequent change in Iranian military policy concerning their activities in Syria.
“Their vision was to have significant influence in Syria by building a force of up to 100,000 Shiite fighters from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said. “They built intelligence bases and an air force base within each Syrian air base. And they brought civilians in order to indoctrinate them.”
By 2016, Eisenkot said the Commander of Iran’s Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, had mobilized 3,000 of his men in Syria, along with 8,000 Hezbollah fighters and another 11,000 foreign Shiite troops.
Israel responded by dropping 2,000 bombs on Iranian military targets in Syria. Iran retaliated by firing 30 rockets at northern Israel from Syria last May, but according to Eisenkot, none of the missiles reached their targets. As a result of the Israeli strikes, Eisenkot said the Iranians were moving troops out of Syria and “transferring their efforts” to Iraq.
These operations were curtailed in December after Syrian air defenses shot down a Russian military airplane during an IAF attack. Russia has a significant military presence in Syria supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a civil war.