Israeli airstrikes in eastern Syria in which dozens of people were killed were carried out with intelligence provided by the United States, a senior U.S. intelligence official with knowledge of the attack said Wednesday – a rare incidence of publicized cooperation between the two countries over choosing targets in Syria.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 57 people were killed in the attacks on eastern Syria on Wednesday, with most of them belonging to pro-Iranian militias.
Earlier, the observatory said that 23 people were killed in the strikes.
The official, who requested anonymity to speak about sensitive national security matters, said Tuesday’s strikes targeted a series of warehouses in Syria that were being used in a pipeline to store and stage Iranian weapons. The official said the warehouses also served as a pipeline for components that support Iran’s nuclear program.
He added that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed the airstrikes with Yossi Cohen, chief of Israel’s spy agency Mossad, at a public meeting in popular Washington restaurant Café Milano on Monday.
The strikes hit the areas of Deir al-Zur and Abu Kamal close to Syria's border with Iraq. The Syrian Observatory said the strikes targeted 18 sites of pro-Iranian militias.
This is the latest in a series of alleged Israeli attacks on Iranian-backed sites throughout Syria, bringing the total to four rounds of aistrikes within two weeks.
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“They burnt Iranian positions in Deir el-Zour,” said Omar Abu Laila, a Europe-based activist from Syria’s eastern Deir el-Zour province who runs an activist collective that reports on news in the border area.
Israel has launched hundreds of strikes against Iran-linked military targets in Syria over the years but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations.
The strikes came amid rising tensions in the region and concerns that Iran might carry out attacks to avenge last year’s killing of one of its top commanders, Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
Israel views Iranian entrenchment on its northern frontier as a red line, and it has repeatedly struck Iran-linked facilities and weapons convoys destined for Hezbollah.
On Tuesday, Haaretz's Amos Harel reported that the Israel Defense Forces, for their part, have been on a high level of defensive alert in recent days.
He added that an aerial defense battery of Patriot missiles was deployed in Eilat, and an exceptionally large presence of fighter planes has been seen in the sky over the country, in all sectors and for a considerable portion of the day.
On January 6, an attack was reported near Al-Kiswah, west of Damascus, not far from the Syrian-Lebanese border. During the preceding 10 days, Arab media reported two additional attacks, one against Syria’s military industrial complex (the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center) north of Damascus and one south of the capital, in the northern portion of the Syrian Golan Heights.
On Saturday, a military spokesman said missiles flying over the Golan Heights targeted several locations and air defences downed several missiles.
In December 2020, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi said the missile strikes had "slowed down Iran's entrenchment in Syria".
"We have struck over 500 targets this year, on all fronts, in addition to multiple clandestine missions," Kochavi said in comments published in Israeli media.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz have repeatedly said Israel will not allow Iranian entrenchment in Syria, vowing to do everything to prevent it.