Israel has been coordinating its airstrikes on Syria with the United States behind the scenes for years, current and former U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal.
The goal is to ensure that Israel's bombing campaign, aimed at disrupting Iranian supply lines and targeting Iranian proxies, does not interfere with the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State in the country, according to Thursday's report.
The U.S. Central Command and the Pentagon have approved several Israeli strikes in advance, mainly in eastern Syria, near the country's al-Tanf military base near the Syria-Jordan border, the Journal reported. Officials added that the U.S. does not examine all Israeli activity in Syria.
Despite their backdoor coordination, Washington's public comments on Israel's air campaign in the region have been far and few between. “There is tacit American support for the Israelis acting to blunt the Iranians’ efforts to spread weapons around and build their leverage throughout the region. But there has also been a consistent hesitancy about wanting any fingerprints on this,” Dennis Ross, a former U.S. Middle East peace envoy, told the Journal.
While the U.S. has carried out numerous strikes against Iran-linked militias, it has avoided an all-out campaign in order to keep tensions with Tehran at bay, with the hopes of reviving a deal over Iran's burgeoning nuclear program.
Although the U.S. generally approved of Israel's proposed strikes, officials said that it had asked Israel to halt two missions in order to not interfere with sensitive U.S. missions. One such incident occurred in 2019, when the U.S. planned an operation in which special forces killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a raid in northwestern Syria.
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The U.S.'s airtight operational coordination with Israel in Syria has brought the country in closer conflict with Iran, which has tried to put pressure on the U.S. to get Israel to dial down its strikes on Iran-backed targets. In October 2021, five Iranian UAVs attacked the al-Tanf base, leading to no casualties but sending a strong message. According to the WSJ report, a U.S. official said that after the attack, Iran sent a confidential message stating that the attack was in response to Israeli strikes against Iranian targets in the region.
But Israeli strikes on Iranian targets have continued uninterrupted, hitting increasingly critical infrastructure in bold displays. Last week's Israeli strike on Damascus International Airport, Israel's 15th strike this year, has left its runway out of commission and effectively paralyzed Syria's main point of air traffic, forcing the country to suspend or reroute all incoming and outgoing flights.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Israel struck hangars used to store Iranian weapons and that auditoriums damaged in the attacks were used to welcome senior figures, such as those from Iran and Hezbollah, making clandestine visits to Syria.