Syrian Opposition Claims IAF Strike Targeted Damascus Airport

A Syrian rebel website says that the alleged Israeli strike in Syria targeted aircraft fuel tanks, Syrian army ammunition storerooms, the army's runway and a civilian cargo plane that had arrived from Iran.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

The target of the alleged Israeli attack in Syria was Damascus airport, where aircraft fuel tanks, Syrian army ammunition storerooms, the army's runway and a civilian cargo plane that had arrived from Iran to Damascus were destroyed, according to a Syrian opposition website.

The website that published this information cited a senior source in the Syrian Ministry of Transport, which is responsible for airport operations, amongst other things.

According to the same source, the attack was carried out on five sites in the airport area. Some were close to each other, while the civilian aircraft was a kilometer away from the other targets. The source explained that the number of targets and the distance between them refutes the Syrian government's claim that Syrian Free Army forces attacked the fuel tanks, as these factors mean that they must have been attacked from the air rather than by mortars. The website also reports that nearby "noises were heard of aircraft breaking the sound barrier."

On Friday, the Assad regime reported that rebels hit the airport's fuel tanks. It denied that there had been an aerial strike in Syrian territory. Official sources in the Syrian opposition have refrained from addressing the alleged Israeli attack. Anonymous Israeli officials confirmed to foreign media Saturday that the Israeli Air Force carried out a strike against Syria that targeted a shipment of advanced missiles. Later Saturday, however, Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad denied the reports. Gilad, who heads the diplomatic security bureau of the Defense Ministry, said that the words of sources who speak under conditions of anonymity cannot be regarded as Israel's official confirmation, according to an Army Radio report. Gilad also stated that Hezbollah is not in possession of chemical weapons, saying, "We have ways of knowing that Syrian weapons are under control."

According to foreign reports the United States is seeking to establish ties between Israel and the Syrian opposition in order to make arrangements to protect the Syrian-Israeli border, in the short term – preventing accidental fire into Israeli territory – as well as long term security measures that are to be determined between the new regime and Israel. Israel and the opposition leadership (alongside the U.S.) have a shared interest in preventing the arming of Hezbollah and obstructing its involvement in fighting the rebels in Syrian territory.

The Free Syrian Army Chief of Staff, General Salim Idris, also has a shared interest with the U.S. and Israel to neutralize the activities of the Jabhat al-Nusra (the radical Sunni organization that numbers around 3,000, is affiliated with Al-Qaida and which the U.S. administration designates as a terrorist organization). The participation of Jabhat al-Nusra in the war in Syria is one of the main factors that are currently delaying the U.S.'s decision regarding the transfer of weapons to the rebels. They fear that they may fall into the hands of extremists, and later on be deployed in internal battles.

At this stage, the U.S. is providing the rebels with non-lethal assistance. This week, a large shipment of night-vision equipment, uniforms, radios and other logistical equipment arrived. But these are not sufficient for the rebels, who also demand heavy weaponry, anti-aircraft missiles and tanks. The U.S. is also training the rebels in Jordan and simultaneously supporting the training of Syrian Kurdish rebels in Iraqi Kurdistan. According to reports in the Arab press, Israel is in close contact with the administration in Iraqi Kurdistan, and is apparently also involved in training the Kurdish rebels.

In light of the alleged Israeli attack in Damascus and the refusal of Western countries to intervene in the Syrian campaign, the question arises whether Israel will be able, or will be required to expand its activities in Syrian airspace, under the guise of preventing weapons from reaching Hezbollah or other organizations and also as an aerial umbrella to protect rebel forces. Such a solution is likely to be comfortable for the U.S., other Arab countries and Turkey, who are not prepared for military intervention on their part without extensive international agreement.

In this way, Israel is likely to accustom the Syrian government and the opposition to the idea that it sees Syria as a legitimate area of activity, as it does in Lebanon. On the other hand, the Syrian opposition is publically distancing itself from all contact with Israel, as it will be seen as relying on the national enemy in order to defeat the government. Such Israeli involvement is likely to provide legitimization for Iran's and Hezbollah's involvement in the fighting in Syria, as well as to the opening-up of another front in Lebanon.

An Israel Air Force F-15 taking off.Credit: Daniel Bar-On

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